What is gambling disorder?
Gambling disorder is a strong urge to gamble, even though it causes serious problems. You may feel that you can't control your gambling in spite of its impact on your finances, relationships, or self-esteem. It's a type of addiction. It may also be called problem gambling.
What are the symptoms?
There are many possible symptoms of gambling disorder. For example, you may:
- Try but fail to quit or cut back on gambling.
- Need to gamble more money to get the same thrill.
- Feel restless or grumpy when you try to control or stop gambling.
- Have repeated thoughts about gambling. For example, you may spend a lot of time thinking about past gambling. Or you may think about how to get more money to gamble with.
- Lie to others about your gambling.
- Gamble more to try to get back money you've lost. (This is called chasing your losses).
- Use gambling to relieve negative emotions, like guilt or stress.
- Harm or lose something important, such as a relationship or a job, because of gambling.
- Need help from others to handle money problems caused by gambling.
The symptoms are similar to those of other addictions, such substance use disorder.
What causes it?
What causes gambling disorder isn't clear, but certain things put people at higher risk. For example, it seems to run in families. Other things that increase your risk include:
- Having other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
- Having an alcohol or drug addiction (substance use disorder).
- Being young and male. Anyone can develop a gambling problem. But it's more common in this group.
- Being abused or neglected as children.
- Having seen or been a victim of violence.
How is it diagnosed?
A doctor will ask questions about your behavior, such as whether you've ever lied about how much you gamble. The doctor may also review your medicines. (Certain medicines may make gambling behavior worse.) You may do a mental health assessment to find other conditions that may need treatment.
How is gambling disorder treated?
Gambling disorder is a complex problem. Usually a combination of treatments will work best. These may include:
- Counseling. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you learn to manage your urge to gamble. It can also help you find other ways to cope with stress. Family therapy may help you repair relationships that were damaged by your gambling.
- Support. Self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous support and educate people who are trying to regain control of their life. Gam-Anon offers support for those affected by another person's gambling.
Medicine. If you have another mental health condition, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat it. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder may make gambling disorder worse.
No medicines are approved to treat gambling disorder. But in some cases, a doctor may prescribe medicine to see if it reduces your urge to gamble. One example is naltrexone. This medicine is often used to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders.
Gambling disorder can increase the risk of suicide, so it's important to get help for this problem. A good place to start is the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700. It provides resources and referrals for people who want to quit gambling. The helpline is confidential, and it's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you're thinking about suicide or self-harm, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line. Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.
Current as of: June 25, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.