Gambling Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms & Signs

Aug 29, 2023

Key points:

  • Gambling withdrawal is a real phenomenon, and individuals can experience physical and psychological symptoms similar to substance withdrawal when trying to quit gambling.

  • Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, irritability, depression, poor concentration, obsessive thoughts, headaches, upset stomach, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart racing, shaking, insomnia, and more.

  • Depression and anxiety are common responses to stopping gambling, with signs such as persistent sadness, loss of interest, excessive worry, restlessness, and muscle tension.

  • Cravings to start gambling again can be intense and triggered by stress or boredom. Managing these cravings is crucial for recovery, involving support from therapists or support groups, self-help techniques, and creating barriers to access gambling opportunities.

  • Treating gambling withdrawal symptoms requires a personalized approach, including therapy, medication for co-occurring conditions, support groups, self-help techniques, lifestyle changes, financial counseling, and family support. Seeking professional help is crucial for successful recovery.

Reviewed by Eric Patterson, LCP

In the world of gaming and gambling, there's a phenomenon that often goes unnoticed or misunderstood: gambling withdrawal. While widely recognized in substance addiction, the concept of withdrawal symptoms in relation to gambling has been a subject of debate. Can individuals really experience physical and psychological effects when they try to quit gambling? Are these symptoms similar to what substance users endure during detox?

Are Gambling Withdrawals Real?

The answer is yes, stopping gambling can create withdrawal symptoms much like substance abuse withdrawal. In fact, there is overlap between the withdrawal symptoms. 

What Are the Symptoms of Gambling Withdrawal?

When an individual with a gambling disorder stops gambling they can develop withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are typically uncomfortable physical or mental symptoms that present as the opposite of the thrill someone gets from gambling.


The DSM, the official list of conditions and symptoms compiled by the American Psychiatric Association, recognizes only restlessness and irritability as a withdrawal symptom of pathological gambling disorder. Studies of individuals undering gambling withdrawal have indicated that there are other common withdrawal symptoms, namely, depression, poor concentration, and obsessive thoughts. Many in withdrawal have also reported physical symptoms like headache, cold sweats, insomnia, and diarrhea.

Depression

Depression is one of the most common symptoms of gambling withdrawal. Recognizing signs of depression is crucial for early intervention. Some signs of depression are:

  • Persistent sadness or emptiness.

  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities.

  • Changes in appetite and weight.

  • Fatigue and decreased energy.

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

  • Sleep disturbances.

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

  • Irritability or restlessness.

  • Physical symptoms like aches and pains.

  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Anxiety

Anxiety is another common response to stopping gambling. Anxiety is a natural response to stress or perceived threats, but when it becomes excessive or uncontrollable, it can lead to an anxiety disorder. Common causes include genetic predisposition, brain chemistry imbalances, personality traits, and stressful life events.

Signs of anxiety include:

  • Excessive worry or fear.

  • Restlessness or irritability.

  • Muscle tension.

  • Racing thoughts.

  • Fatigue.

  • Sweating and trembling.

  • Avoidance of anxiety-triggering situations.

Cravings to Start Gambling Again

Cravings to start gambling again can be one of the most formidable challenges individuals face during gambling withdrawal as a way to relieve symptoms. These intense desires can arise suddenly, triggered by stress, boredom, or even just a passing thought. They often stem from the brain's reward system, which associates gambling with pleasurable feelings. Managing these cravings is a pivotal part of recovery. Strategies like seeking support from therapists or support groups, implementing self-help techniques, and creating barriers to access gambling opportunities can help individuals resist the urge. Understanding that cravings are a normal part of the withdrawal process can empower individuals to stay on their path to recovery.

Physical Symptoms of Excessive Gambling

While the physical withdrawal symptoms aren’t always recognized, they are often present. In one study, many who stop gambling reported the following physical symptoms:

  • Headaches

  • Upset stomach or diarrhea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Physical weakness

  • Heart racing or palpitations

  • Shaking

  • Muscle aches or cramps

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Sweating

  • Chills or fever

Insomnia

Those who stop gambling often report suffering from insomnia for a period of time. Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep despite adequate opportunity. It can lead to daytime fatigue, mood disturbances, and impaired cognitive function, impacting overall well-being and daily functioning.

Treating Gambling Withdrawal Symptoms

Treating gambling withdrawal symptoms is a crucial aspect of helping individuals on their journey to recovery. Withdrawal from gambling can be a challenging process, as it encompasses both physical and psychological symptoms. Here are some effective strategies for addressing these symptoms:

  • Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used approach to treat gambling addiction. It helps individuals identify and modify the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their addiction.  Individual or group therapy sessions provide a safe space to explore underlying issues.

  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety, which often accompany gambling addiction.

  • Support Groups: Joining support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and strategies with others on a similar journey can be immensely helpful.

  • Self-help Techniques: Encouraging individuals to develop coping mechanisms, mindfulness practices, and healthier outlets for stress can assist in managing withdrawal symptoms.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Promoting a healthier lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can improve overall well-being and resilience during recovery.

  • Financial Counseling: Given the financial implications of gambling addiction, seeking financial counseling can help individuals regain control of their finances and establish a more stable future.

  • Family Support: Involving family members in the recovery process can foster a supportive environment and enhance the chances of long-term success.

The key to successful treatment lies in a personalized approach that addresses the unique needs and circumstances of each individual battling gambling withdrawal symptoms. It's essential to seek professional help and develop a comprehensive plan that combines several of these strategies to maximize the chances of a successful recovery.

Finding Help

Finding effective help for a gambling treatment problem is not only crucial but also attainable. Acknowledging the issue is the first vital step, followed by seeking professional assistance. Whether it's through therapy, support groups, or helplines, there are numerous resources available for individuals battling gambling addiction. 

It's essential to recognize that recovery is a journey, often marked by ups and downs. Patience, self-compassion, and a strong support network are invaluable assets throughout this process. Moreover, understanding the underlying triggers and developing coping strategies can be pivotal in maintaining a gambling-free life.

Importantly, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It's a courageous step towards regaining control over one's life and financial stability. With the right guidance and determination, individuals can break free from the clutches of gambling addiction and rebuild their lives on a foundation of health and happiness.

Remember, the path to recovery may be challenging, but it is undeniably worth it. Don't hesitate to reach out for help, for it is through seeking assistance that you open the door to a brighter, addiction-free future.

References:

Gambling Disorder - Cleveland Clinic

Towards DSM-V: considering other withdrawal-like symptoms of pathological gambling disorder - PMC

Self‐Reported Withdrawal Symptoms and Pathological Gambling - Rosenthal - 1992 - The American Journal on Addictions - Wiley Online Library

Table 1, Primary DSM-IV depression disorders, criteria for adults

Table 3.15, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Comparison - Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health - NCBI Bookshelf





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