Gambling Addiction: How a Common Pastime Can Become a Life of Addiction

Gambling is a common pastime across the country, with an entire city – Las Vegas – referred to as the gambling capital of the world. For many, it is a harmless activity, but for others, gambling addiction becomes an incredibly debilitating illness that can be a challenge to recover from.

Individuals struggling with behavioral addictions should not take their situations lightly. The short- and long-term effects of behavioral addiction can impact their work, relationships, and ability to function daily.

Understanding Behavioral Addictions

When talking about addiction, so many of us focus on alcoholism or substance use disorders (SUD). The reality is that behavioral addictions can be just as problematic.  According to a literature review published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, “Behavioral addictions resemble substance addictions in terms of natural history, phenomenology, tolerance, comorbidity, overlapping genetic contribution, neurobiological mechanisms, and response to treatment.”

This claim is further supported in other scientific journals. As discussed in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, other behavioral scientists believe “all entities capable of stimulating a person can be addictive.” They claim that when a habit becomes an “obligation, it may be considered an addiction.” Behavioral addictions include many actions in addition to gambling. Commonly, people may experience addiction to the internet, shopping, food, and sex.

Behavioral addictions are similar to SUD in function. They impact the neural pathways in the reward system of the brain. People experience intrusive thoughts and compulsions. They urge people to repeat actions that cause a reward response.

A key indicator of behavioral addiction is the inability to stop or control these actions despite the harm or destruction they yield. People can also experience cravings when trying to stop compulsive actions. Addictive behaviors can physically change the brain like substance use does, making it more challenging to stop.

What Is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction is just as it sounds — an addiction to gambling. Like other behavioral addictions, gambling consumes the lives of money and can lead to a number of problems, including financial trouble. According to the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, components of a behavioral addiction, like gambling, include:

#1. Continued engagement in a behavior despite adverse consequences

#2. Diminished self-control over engaging in the behavior

#3. Compulsive engagement in the behavior

#4. Intense cravings prior to engaging in the behavior

Additionally, the Harvard Review of Psychiatry also states that individuals with a gambling addiction often experience co-occurring disorders such as “impulse-control, moody, anxiety, and personality disorders.” Gambling addiction may trigger these latent illnesses, or gambling may be a byproduct of pre-existing mental disorders.

This idea is similar to thoughts surrounding SUD. The inability to cope with trauma, stress, or other distressing situations and mental illnesses may lead to the development of addiction.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is also sometimes referred to as compulsive gambling. Signs of compulsive gambling include:

#1. Constantly thinking about or wanting to gamble

#2. Lying about gambling habits to friends, family, or other loved ones

#3. Spending time gambling instead of working or being with family

#4. Recognizing unhealthy gambling patterns or even feeling guilty about gambling

#5. Unsuccessfully trying to stop gambling

#6. Using money meant for responsibilities, like bills, to gamble

These are just a few signs that may indicate a person has a problem with compulsive gambling. Some individuals also become dependent on the feeling of taking bigger risks. For example, they may need to increase how much money they gamble in order to experience the same high.

Additionally, people often find themselves in debt because of their struggle with gambling. They may start borrowing money from people and getting themselves into sticky situations because they can not pay those people back. It is also common for people to steal from loved ones in order to maintain their habits. In their scenario, financial trouble becomes a severe risk in addition to potential run-ins with the law.

Some people may be able to reduce their gambling slightly. They also may not experience urges and cravings when they do not have the money to gamble. However, as soon as they come into any amount of currency, they find themselves back where they were. Seeking treatment is the best way to recover from a gambling addiction.


Many treatment options for gambling addiction are similar to those that treat SUD. They typically include behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These can be very effective. CBT, in particular, focuses on helping people recognize negative thinking or behavior patterns and changing them.

Medication can also help individuals with gambling addiction. They can help people deal with the underlying issues associated with gambling, like depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses.

Support groups are very effective as well. Like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, attending Gambling Anonymous (or other groups) meetings as needed keeps people accountable, helps them cope with urges, and reminds them they are not alone in their struggle

By engaging in these established treatments, individuals struggling with gambling addiction and co-occurring disorders can get better. They can be on the path to recovery.

Many compulsive behaviors impact the reward system in our brains. As we become accustomed to these rewarding or pleasurable feelings, we start craving more. These behaviors typically include addiction to the internet, food, sex, and gambling. Gambling can be a harmless form of entertainment, but it can become addictive. Individuals struggling with a gambling addiction can seek treatment at Excel Treatment Center. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs that can help you learn to manage your addiction. Through our various groups, you’ll gain a support system of people who understand what you’re going through. To free yourself from an active gambling addiction, call Excel Treatment Center at (833) 883-9235 today. 

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