- Dec 5
Problem gambling can happen to people from all walks of life. Gambling can go from a harmless, occasional diversion into an unhealthy obsession that comes with severe consequences for your life. Problem gambling can quickly cause tension in your relationships, work and finances. People with a severe gambling disorder can end up in financial disaster quickly.
Since problem gambling can become an uncontrollable impulse for many people, those struggling with it often need professional help to get their life back on track. You’ll learn more below about problem gambling, the different levels of severity, the warning signs, risk factors and how you can get help if you or someone you know is struggling.
What Is Problem Gambling?
Problem gambling and gambling addiction occur when a person’s life is damaged or disrupted by gambling. Problem gambling interferes with a person’s daily life. Playing the lottery once or twice a week typically isn’t harmful behavior. However, when problems with gambling evolve to include placing large bets or spending most of your time thinking or participating in gambling, it can become a significant interference in life.
Problem gambling, also known as gambling disorder, is an impulse-control disorder. People with problem gambling can’t control their impulses, even if their gambling has negative consequences. People with this condition will continue to gamble, whether successful or losing money fast. However, you can also have a gambling problem even if you’re not totally out of control. Gambling becomes a problem when it interferes with your life in any way, whether you’re spending too much time and money on it or it’s deteriorating your relationships or ability to follow through with responsibilities.
DSM-5-TR Definition of Gambling Disorder
Previously called pathological gambling, the DSM-5-TR classifies gambling disorder under substance-related and addictive disorders. Problem gambling is defined as having persistent and recurring gambling behaviors that lead to distress, which is indicated by four or more of the following criteria displayed within 12 months:
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop, control or cut back gambling
- A desire to increase the stakes or money played with to increase excitement
- Irritability or restlessness when trying to cut back or stop gambling
- Preoccupation with gambling, which includes persistent thoughts, planning gambling ventures or thinking of ways to get money to gamble
- Chasing losses by returning to gambling shortly after losing money
- Relying on others for financial support during desperate financial circumstances caused by gambling
- Gambling when feeling distressed, including feelings of depression, anxiety, helplessness or guilt
- Lying to hide involvement with gambling activities
Individuals with four or more of the above criteria can potentially be diagnosed with a gambling disorder since it indicates their gambling habits have significantly impacted their life.
Gambling Severity Index
The Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) measures the at-risk behavior of individuals who may have a gambling disorder. The PGSI is a tool specialists use to determine the severity of a person’s gambling problem and how they can assist them. People who may have a gambling disorder are asked to self-assess their behaviors in the last 12 months, which are scored on a scale between zero to 27. The different categories and their scores include:
- Non-problem: People with a self-assessment score of zero are those who can gamble without any problem and likely don’t participate in gambling often.
- Low-risk: People with a score of one to two are considered low-risk and experience low-level problems with little to no consequences associated with their gambling. For example, they may feel guilty after gambling or spending over their limit.
- Moderate-risk: Individuals with a score between three and seven are considered to have a moderate problem with gambling and have some negative consequences. People at a moderate risk may lose track of time while gambling, feel guilt about gambling or spend more than they can afford.
- Problem gamblers: People who score an eight or higher on their self-assessment can be considered problem gamblers who struggle with losing control and negative consequences.
The Warning Signs of Problem Gambling or Worsening Gambling
There are warning signs you can use to identify problem gambling or worsening gambling in yourself or a loved one. For many people, gambling is a fun thing to do now and then and doesn’t become a problem. However, it can be challenging to determine if gambling is becoming more problematic or dangerous. Problem gambling can seem like a hidden addiction because there are no physical symptoms or outward signs you may notice with someone with an alcohol or drug addiction.
Some signs that you or someone you love is developing a gambling disorder or worsening gambling include when you or your loved one are:
- Regularly called or visited by bill collectors
- Gambling longer than intended
- Gambling to escape reality or uncomfortable feelings
- Celebrating good times when gambling
- Experiencing disruptions to your routine, such as sleep or work
- Regularly away from home and loved ones
- Asking for money to gamble or pay debts
- Losing time from school or work
- Hiding money from your partner to prevent it from being spent on gambling by a loved one
- Experiencing personality changes as gambling worsens
Risk Factors for Developing Problem Gambling
Some people have risk factors that make them more likely to develop a gambling problem, such as the following:
- Genetics: Just as a person’s genetics can make them more likely to develop alcohol or drug addictions, some people may be more genetically inclined to develop a gambling addiction due to their brain’s response to the hormones released during gambling.
- Mental health: The presence of mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can make a person more likely to develop a gambling addiction — these people may use gambling to cope with their emotional pain, escape from reality or self-medicate.
- Age: Younger people are at risk of developing gambling problems. Teens or young adults may begin gambling because of low self-esteem or peer pressure or because they want entertainment. They may also be looking for a way to cope with their feelings. Age can also impact whether a person develops problem gambling — those who start gambling young may be more likely to develop an addiction as they age.
- Sex: Both men and women can develop gambling problems, but men are more likely to develop a gambling addiction. This is partly because men are at an increased risk of social anxiety and are more likely to take risks.
- Medications: Medications known as dopamine agonists can lead to compulsive behaviors like gambling, especially for a person with a history of gambling.
- Personality: People with a pessimistic outlook, low self-esteem, impulsivity or shyness — as well as those who worry excessively or have trouble making decisions — can be more likely to develop a gambling addiction.
- Stress: Some people may use gambling to relax or decompress when dealing with stress. Some people may start gambling when responding to life stressors and increase their gambling behaviors when they experience more stress.
- Culture: A person’s culture can influence gambling. For example, gambling is sometimes more common in specific ethnic minorities. Adapting to a new culture or trying to fit in with your existing culture can make you more likely to develop a gambling addiction.
- Early winning: If a person gambles for the first time and they win, they may develop an expectation to win again in the future. Seeking more wins can cause a person to develop an addiction since they’re holding onto the hope and rush they got from winning previously.
Get Help for Problem Gambling With Gateway Foundation
If you or your loved one is struggling with problem gambling, Gateway Foundation can help. The sooner you address your gambling addiction, the fewer negative life consequences you’ll face. Gambling addiction is treatable with the right combination of therapy, support and potentially medication. The first step to getting help is acknowledging your problem and seeking help.