Symptoms of a Gambling Disorder
Gambling involves risking something of value, usually money, on an event whose outcome is uncertain. It can involve a game of chance, such as the lottery or a scratchcard, a sport event, a horse race, a board game or a poker match. It also can be done with a machine such as a slot or video poker. Gambling is an activity that involves a degree of skill, and some people play for fun, while others become addicted.
For a person to have a gambling disorder, it is essential for him or her to experience several of the following symptoms:
(1) The desire to gamble, even when faced with negative consequences. These include feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression; attempts to conceal gambling from family members and therapists; lying about financial problems to cover gambling losses; engaging in illegal activities such as forgery, fraud, embezzlement or theft to finance gambling; and jeopardizing a job, education or relationship opportunity because of gambling.
(2) The failure to meet obligations because of gambling. These may include the inability to pay bills, support a family or meet personal needs. In some cases, the person will engage in other behaviors to avoid gambling, including spending long periods of time at work or on the internet.
(3) The inability to control gambling behavior. This includes a lack of effective efforts to cut back or stop gambling, as well as a failure to seek treatment.
(4) Continuing to gamble despite the presence of negative consequences. These can include losing a job, home or car because of gambling; being arrested for gambling-related crimes; and engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as drug abuse, excessive drinking, or suicide.
For people struggling with a gambling problem, there are many options for help. One is to join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step recovery program similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous and offers help for both the person with an addiction and his or her family. Another option is to get counseling for underlying mood disorders such as depression, stress or anxiety, which can both trigger gambling problems and make them worse. Finally, a person with a gambling disorder can take steps to protect himself or herself and his or her finances by cutting up credit cards, putting someone else in charge of managing money, closing online betting accounts and only keeping a small amount of cash on hand. If a loved one has a gambling addiction, it is important to reach out for support, as other families have dealt with this issue and can offer guidance and encouragement.