What is Problem Gambling?

Apr 20, 2023

Therapist offering a problem gambler gambling addiction counseling and treatment

What is Problem Gambling?

Problem Gambling (also called gambling disorder, gambling addiction, and pathological gambling or compulsive gambling) is the uncontrollable compulsion to continue gambling despite the effects on an individual's life. Problem gamblers feel an urge to keep risking something they value for the expectation they will receive something of even greater value.

Addiction may be caused by problem gambling's stimulation of the brain's reward system (much like abuse of alcohol, drugs, or other substances). If you are a problem gambler, you may continue to place wagers and chase increasingly unlikely bets that result in debt, the loss of savings, or other significant consequences. Problem gamblers often attempt to hide their behavior and can even turn to crime (theft, fraud, or worse) to feed their addiction.

Due to its severity, gambling addiction has been officially recognized in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Prior versions of the DSM-5 (for example, the DSM-4) classified problem gambling as an impulse control disorder rather than an addictive disorder. In the current DSM-5, problem gambling is the only non-substance addiction included in the category of Addictions and Related Disorders.

What causes Problem Gambling?

Problem Gambling is often a collection of different societal, social, and cultural factors in an individual’s life. 

Symptoms and signs of gambling disorder may include:

  • Obsessing over or being preoccupied with gambling (including constantly thinking about the next opportunity to gamble, planning activities around gambling or wagering, or even a simple acknowledgement that at any given time, someone cannot stop gambling)

  • Needing to wager or bet increasingly large amounts of money to receive the same stimulation or reach the same thrill through gambling

  • Trying to stop, control, cut back, or reduce gambling - often without any success

  • Feeling angry, unhappy, or irritable when trying to control your gambling

  • Gambling as escapism, and needing to run away from daily life, escape problems, or relieve common feelings and emotions such as anxiety, depression, guilt, or boredom

  • Lying to friends, family members, and other individuals close to you about frequency and extent of your problem gambling

  • Attempting to win back gambling losses by gambling even more (and continuing to do so in a negative cycle) - this is often referred to as “chasing losses”

  • Committing crimes such as theft or fraud, and asking others to bail you out of jail or ongoing financial difficulty due to loss of money from gambling

Individuals who suffer from co morbid mental health conditions may be more vulnerable to compulsive gambling and gambling disorder. These mental health conditions can include:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

  • Personality Disorder

  • Substance Abuse Problems

  • Trauma & Increased Levels of Stress

  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Problem gambling (also called gambling disorder, gambling addiction, and pathological gambling or compulsive gambling) may also be caused by childhood conditions, age, gender or even specific personality characteristics:

  • Children of compulsive gamblers are more likely to be problem gamblers and suffer from gambling addiction themselves. This can be due to factors within the home as well as social pressures and external influences from family, friends, casual acquaintances or even work colleagues. Any interactions that expose a child to problem gambling may increase that person’s risk of developing gambling addiction later in life

  • Age may be a factor in the development of problem gambling. Though gambling disorder may appear at any stage of life, research shows that the age at which problem gambling often appears is between 21 and 40 years old

  • Gender plays a part in the development of of gambling addiction. Problem gambling is notably more prevalent in men than in women. While 4.2% of men were problem gamblers, only 2.9% of women had gambling disorder

  • Personality traits such as being a workaholic, impulsive, restless, easily bored, or highly competitive may increase the risk of gambling disorder in an individual

If you are unsure of problem gambling behaviors affecting your life, Birches Health offers a free, confidential Problem Gambling quiz to help identify harmful behaviors in a clinical manner.

What can Problem Gambling Lead to?

  1. Impact on Mental, Physical, and Emotional Health: Mental health issues frequently accompany problem gambling disorder. The result of an individual’s experience with gambling addiction may often manifest as stress, anxiety, weight gain due to a poor diet, emotional disturbance, and depression.


  2. Loss of Close Relationships Across Family, Friends, and Colleagues: Problem Gambling often has destructive effects on family relationships including in marriages and parent-child interactions. It often results in elevated rates of divorce. Birches Health focuses on providing holistic care - as a result, our comprehensive gambling addiction treatment program offers support for families, friends, children, and colleagues throughout the course of treatment.


  3. Destruction of Personal Finances: Problem gamblers normally suffer from systemic financial comprise. This means that despite holding a steady job with recurring income, gambling addicts lose money more quickly than the average American citizen. Eventually problem gambling disorder may impact your ability to create or continue a successful career. Birches Health focuses on providing holistic care - as a result, our comprehensive gambling addiction treatment program offers group therapy and peer support, allowing our patients to support each other on their recovery journey.

If you think you or someone you know is possibly exhibiting problem gambling behaviors, take the next step and have a quick, confidential conversation with a gambling specialist.

Problem gambling can ruin lives and quickly have disastrous consequences. It can destroy family and friend relationships as well as cause individuals to go into debt and worse. 

As a leading, mission-driven provider of accessible and affordable virtual care, Birches Health connects problem gamblers to licensed clinicians to ensure that gambling addicts get the care they need. Our providers intake patients, carefully evaluate symptoms and signs, and design a custom treatment plan to help you begin your recovery journey and regain control of your life. Treatment often includes CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), MI (Motivational Interviewing), and other care modalities to make sure patients receive clinically effective care and the highest quality clinical outcomes.

Get Started on your recovery journey today.

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