Gambling addiction, also known as gambling disorder, is a behavioral addiction characterized by a persistent and escalating pattern of gambling behavior despite negative consequences (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It is a growing public health concern, with an estimated 2.3% of the global population experiencing a gambling disorder at some point in their lives (Calado & Griffiths, 2016).
Signs of gambling addiction include preoccupation with gambling, escalating bets, anxiety, depression, irritability, guilt, emotional withdrawal, unexplained financial troubles, and inability to meet obligations.
This article aims to highlight these signs and symptoms of gambling addiction, drawing on academic research to provide an evidence-based understanding of this complex and potentially devastating condition.
Preoccupation with gambling
One of the primary signs of gambling addiction is a persistent preoccupation with gambling activities. Individuals struggling with this addiction may constantly think about past gambling experiences, plan future gambling activities, or develop strategies to win (Black, Shaw, & Coryell, 2018). This preoccupation can lead to a diminished interest in other aspects of life, such as work, relationships, and hobbies, ultimately causing a decline in overall well-being (Dowling et al., 2015).
Research has shown that gambling addicts exhibit cognitive distortions, such as an overestimation of their control over gambling outcomes and a belief in the “gambler’s fallacy,” the erroneous notion that past events can predict future outcomes in games of chance (Fortune & Goodie, 2012). These cognitive distortions may contribute to the persistent preoccupation with gambling.
Loss of control over gambling
A loss of control over gambling is another key indicator of gambling addiction. Individuals may find themselves unable to stop or reduce their gambling behavior, even when they recognize the negative consequences of their actions (Sharman, Murphy, Turner, & Roberts, 2019). They may also experience an increased urge to gamble over time, leading to a vicious cycle in which they gamble more and more to achieve the same level of excitement or satisfaction (Nower & Blaszczynski, 2017).
The loss of control over gambling has been linked to the role of dopamine in the brain’s reward system. Research has shown that gambling activities can trigger the release of dopamine, leading to feelings of pleasure and reinforcement of the behavior (Clark, 2010). Over time, this can result in a reduced ability to resist the urge to gamble, even in the face of negative consequences (Potenza, 2014).
Lying about gambling
Individuals with gambling addiction often lie about their gambling activities to friends, family members, and even themselves (Meyer, Rumpf, Kreuzer, de Brito, & John, 2019). They may hide the extent of their gambling, fabricate stories to justify their behavior, or minimize their losses while exaggerating their wins (Hing, Russell, & Browne, 2017). This pattern of deception can serve to maintain the addiction by enabling the individual to avoid facing the reality of their situation and the potential consequences of their actions (Gavriel-Fried, 2021).
Risking relationships and careers
Gambling addiction can have a significant impact on personal and professional relationships. Individuals may neglect their responsibilities at work or home, leading to job loss, poor job performance, or strained relationships with loved ones (Dowling et al., 2016). In some cases, the addiction may cause individuals to prioritize gambling over their relationships, jeopardizing their connections with friends and family (Wenzel & Dahl, 2009).
Escalation of gambling habits
As gambling addiction progresses, individuals may engage in higher stakes gambling or turn to more extreme forms of gambling to experience the same level of excitement or satisfaction (Grant, Odla, & Potenza, 2017). This escalation of gambling habits can lead to increased financial and emotional consequences, further exacerbating the addiction (Yip et al., 2020). Additionally, individuals may begin to use gambling as an escape from stress or personal problems, or they may gamble to recover previous losses, known as “chasing losses” (Nower & Blaszczynski, 2017).
Anxiety and depression
Gambling addiction is often accompanied by increased levels of anxiety and depression (Dowling et al., 2015). Individuals may experience stress and worry related to their gambling activities, and this can lead to feelings of hopelessness or depression. In some cases, gambling addiction has been associated with suicidal thoughts or attempts (Ronzitti, Kraus, Hoff, & Potenza, 2020).
Research has suggested that the relationship between gambling addiction and mental health issues is bidirectional, with each condition potentially exacerbating the other (Dowling et al., 2015). It is important for individuals experiencing these symptoms to seek professional help, as addressing the co-occurring disorders can improve overall treatment outcomes (Cowlishaw et al., 2018).
Irritability and restlessness
Irritability and restlessness are common emotional indicators of gambling addiction. Individuals may become frustrated when they are unable to gamble or may have difficulty relaxing or concentrating when they are not engaged in gambling activities (Mallorquí-Bagué et al., 2019). These symptoms can lead to agitation or mood swings, negatively affecting personal and professional relationships (Dowling et al., 2016).
Feelings of guilt or shame
Individuals with gambling addiction often experience feelings of guilt or shame related to their behavior and its consequences (Hing et al., 2016). They may regret their gambling actions, blame themselves for their losses, or feel remorse for the harm their addiction has caused themselves and others (Canale, Vieno, & Griffiths, 2016). These negative emotions can contribute to the maintenance of the addiction, as individuals may turn to gambling as a way to escape or cope with their feelings of guilt or shame (Lorains, Cowlishaw, & Thomas, 2011).
Emotional withdrawal from loved ones
As gambling addiction progresses, individuals may become emotionally withdrawn from their friends and family members (Wenzel & Dahl, 2009). They may lose interest in social activities and hobbies, isolate themselves from their support networks, and become emotionally distant or unavailable (Dowling et al., 2016). This withdrawal can further exacerbate the addiction, as it deprives individuals of the social support and connections that are critical for recovery (Ingle, Marotta, McMillan, & Wisdom, 2008).
Unexplained financial troubles
Individuals with gambling addiction may experience unexplained financial troubles, such as frequent requests for loans or cash advances, missing valuables or unexplained asset liquidation, or overdrawn bank accounts and mounting credit card debt (Meyer et al., 2019). These financial difficulties can serve as a red flag for gambling addiction, as they may indicate that an individual is using their resources to finance their gambling activities (Grant et al., 2017).
Borrowing money to gamble
Borrowing money to finance gambling activities is another financial indicator of gambling addiction. Individuals may take out loans or use credit cards to fund their gambling, ask friends or family members for financial support, or engage in illegal activities to obtain money for gambling (Potenza, 2014). This pattern of borrowing can lead to significant financial hardship and may further perpetuate the addiction, as individuals may feel compelled to continue gambling in an attempt to recoup their losses or repay their debts (Hing et al., 2016).
Inability to pay bills or meet financial obligations
Gambling addiction can lead to an inability to pay bills or meet financial obligations, such as late or missed payments on rent, mortgage, or utilities, defaulting on loans or credit cards, or neglecting essential needs like food, clothing, or healthcare (Mallorquí-Bagué et al., 2019). These financial consequences can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life and may serve as a catalyst for seeking help and support for their addiction (Ingle et al., 2008).
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction is critical for early intervention and treatment. Individuals who exhibit behavioral, emotional, and financial indicators of gambling addiction should be encouraged to seek help and support, as addressing the underlying issues can improve overall well-being and the potential for recovery. It is important to remember that recovery is possible, and with appropriate treatment and support, individuals can overcome their addiction and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
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