How to Recognize a Gambling Problem


Gambling is a form of risk-taking in which you stake something of value – often money – on an event with uncertain outcomes, such as a sporting match or a scratchcard game. You’re hoping to win something else of value in return. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to gamble, but it can be dangerous if you have an addiction or other mental health issues.

People who suffer from gambling disorder can experience significant harms in a variety of areas, including their physical and mental health, relationships with family and friends, work or school performance, debt, and legal problems. It can also cause emotional distress, social isolation and feelings of shame. In addition, cultural harm can occur in communities where the activity is considered a common pastime.

Problematic gambling is often hard to recognize in yourself or a loved one, but there are a number of warning signs that can help you identify it. These include:

Many people who have a gambling problem don’t consider themselves to be addicted, but the symptoms of an addiction are very similar to those of other addictions. Gambling addiction causes the brain to change, affecting our ability to control our impulses and emotions. Ultimately, this can lead to a series of negative consequences, from financial stress and accumulating debt to strained relationships and even suicide.

There are a number of ways that you can get support for a gambling problem, from self-help books and apps to professional therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing are both effective treatment methods for gambling addiction. CBT involves working with a therapist to identify faulty thoughts and behaviors, such as feeling you’re “due to win” after a string of losses, and then learning tools to reframe those harmful patterns and respond more appropriately. Motivational interviewing is a technique that helps individuals enhance their motivation to change by exploring and addressing any ambivalence they may have about their gambling behavior.

Gambling affects the reward center of the brain. When we engage in healthy behaviors, such as spending time with loved ones or eating a delicious meal, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine that makes us feel good. When we engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as gambling, the brain doesn’t receive the same dopamine rewards, and we continue to engage in those behaviors despite their negative consequences.

Continuing to gamble after losing money can make you feel worse, as your pride and sense of despair increase. It can also cause more stress, which can damage your relationship with family and friends and lead to poor work or study performances. It can also lead to more debt, and some people turn to illegal activities such as stealing or borrowing in an attempt to repay their debts. This can have a long-term effect on your life and cause lasting damage to your reputation.