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Gambling Addiction

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Gambling Addiction

Occasional gambling may be a pleasurable activity. But when gambling becomes addictive, it can take a heavy toll on the life, finances, health, and wellbeing of gamblers and their loved ones.

Compulsive gamblers can win or lose a huge amount of money within a few hours or days. The euphoria that accompanies gambling, can become so intoxicating that gamblers keep playing to regain their high.

At one time, gambling only occurred in casinos, but today it takes on many forms. Betting, gaming and wagering takes place online 24/7 and affects both genders, from teens to adults. Data shows that about 5 million U.S. residents suffer from compulsive gambling, but less than 10% of them will seek help at gambling addiction treatment centers. Obtaining treatment for compulsive gambling can help address this destructive process and give people full control of their lives again.

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What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction or compulsive gambling occurs when a person keeps gambling even when they are experiencing the adverse effects of their activities. They can no longer control compulsive gambling, and they continue to gamble even when they’ve lost all their money. A person who doesn’t have this illness will usually stop when they reach a predefined maximum loss.

What are Common Gambling Addiction Symptoms?

There are many signs of gambling addiction. Identifying these signs should be the first step toward getting help. It’s important to identify the signs of compulsive gambling so that you can prevent any damaging effects:

  • Placing very large bets or taking more dangerous risks such as borrowing from illegal sources
  • Inability to resist the urge to gamble
  • Losing control of the amount of money spent in a gambling session
  • Experiencing trouble at work due to gambling
  • Behaving secretly about gambling activities
  • Having a large amount of cash that suddenly disappears
  • Applying for new credit cards without any observable need for money
  • Staying away from family, friends, and hobbies to gamble
  • Lying about spending habits
  • Spending plenty of time online without talking about the activity
  • Requesting loans from family and friends without giving a good reason for the cash

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

People who live about 50 miles or less from a popular casino are more likely to become compulsive gamblers
Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like other addictive substances, but the exact cause of compulsive gambling isn’t well-understood. Like other problems, gambling addiction may result from a combination of factors that make an individual more vulnerable. These factors can be:

  • Biological: Recent studies show that a variety of biological underpinnings may contribute to the development of gambling addiction, including abnormal serotonin levels, elevated levels of dopamine and high levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine.
  • Genetic: If a family member struggles with a gambling addiction, your risk of problem gambling increases. Based on a study of twins raised apart, there appears to be a substantial inheritability of the impulsiveness linked to gambling issues.
  • Environmental: Many environmental risk factors increase the likelihood of individuals struggling with gambling, including frequent advertisements, accessibility of casinos or gaming venues, unemployment or financial problems and high stress.

Who’s at Risk for Gambling Addiction?

Many people can engage in gambling without any feeling or compulsion to continue. Others find that once they get involved, gambling soon tops their priority list. It’s important to understand the factors that are often associated with compulsive gambling, such as:


Most people who struggle with a gambling addiction are young or middle-aged. Those exposed to adverse gambling habits in childhood or adolescence are more at risk of developing a compulsive gambling problem in adulthood. That said, problem gambling can begin in retirement among older adults as well.


Compulsive gambling is far more common in men than women. However, trends are becoming increasingly similar. Women who gamble tend to start later in life and become addicted more rapidly.

Mental Health Disorders

Compulsive gambling is often linked to co-occurring mental health issues, such as substance use disorders, anxiety, depression and other psychiatric problems like bipolar disorder or ADHD.

Peer Pressure

Individuals who witness their friends or family gambling tend to be more drawn to compulsive gambling.


Certain medications used to treat restless legs syndrome and Parkinson’s disease have a rare side effect that impacts compulsive behaviors. Some people who use these dopamine agonists may struggle with problem gambling.

Personality Traits

Workaholics and those who are impulsive, highly competitive, easily bored or restless may be more drawn to compulsive gambling.

The Effects of Gambling Addiction

If you struggle with a gambling addiction, you may feel like you need to hide it out of shame or a desire for secrecy. Yet, the longer you wait to get help, the more seriously compulsive gambling can impact your relationships, your work and the stability of your life. Gambling doesn’t just affect the individual struggling to control their behavior. It has far-reaching consequences that impact the lives of everyone around them. This addiction can affect your:

Family and Friends

Problem gambling is heartbreaking to witness, especially for those closest to you. When unchecked, gambling can lead to emotional neglect, irrational behaviors, intense mood swings, secrecy, explosive arguments and financial instability. All these factors and more can put a strain on your closest relationships, possibly resulting in children struggling with abandonment issues, marriage problems and broken friendships.


It’s not uncommon for people with gambling addictions to lose their jobs. Problem gambling can cause you to be distracted or even skip work. It can also interfere with work relationships and promotion opportunities.


If you continue down the road of compulsive gambling, financial devastation is unavoidable. This behavior can impact your ability to make a stable income, and many people struggling with this form of addiction resort to maxing out credit cards, taking out large loans or even stealing.


Gambling addictions can place a severe hardship on larger communities, leading to increased substance use problems, strained public assistance programs and overwhelming economic costs.

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Gambling Addiction Treatment Options

Treatment for pathological gambling or gambling addiction is highly effective. If the person gambling can admit they need help, then the following therapy can work:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): The therapist challenges the person’s wrong beliefs and then replaces them with new and more accurate beliefs. During CBT, the person’s feelings change, and they modify their gambling behavior.
  • Medication: Antidepressants may treat any co-occurring problems such as depression and anxiety. This could reduce the urge to gamble. Narcotic antagonists may also reduce the craving to gamble.
  • Support groups: Joining a compulsive gambling support group can give individuals a chance to enjoy self-help. 12-step fellowships such as those offered at Gateway can also help people receive encouragement to abstain from gambling.

How to Get Gambling Addiction Help in Illinois

If you know that your gambling has gotten out of control or you’re beginning to notice the first stages of compulsive gambling, then it’s time to take action. There are many things you can do to manage the moods, emotions or boredom that lead to gambling:

  • Take up new and interesting hobbies.
  • Engage in healthy activities like exercise or yoga.
  • Go out with friends.

Along with having plenty of ways to distract yourself, you’ll also want to build a support system. Choose a few of your closest friends, family members or even colleagues, and tell them that you’ve been struggling with compulsive gambling. They can be a source of strength, helping to keep you accountable when you’re tempted to gamble.

Of course, you don’t have to overcome gambling addiction alone. Seeking help from compassionate professionals is another important step you can take. At Gateway Foundation, we offer effective, life-saving gambling addiction treatment to individuals who need help. We’re here to give you the tools you need to regain control and reclaim your life.

If you suspect that your gambling has turned problematic, take the quiz below. This tool will give you a better idea if you need gambling addiction treatment. Contact us to learn more about our personalized addiction services.

Gamblers Anonymous Twenty Questions

Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is a group that helps people share their experience, support and hope in order to stop gambling and build better lives. These people follow a 12-Step program and go to meetings to talk about their gambling and abstinence experiences. GA uses the Twenty Questions listed below as a self test for new members. If someone answers ‘yes’ to 7 or more of these, GA believes that the person has a problem with gambling.

To take the quiz, answer the questions below. Please note, all fields are required.

Did you ever lose time from work because you were gambling?

Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

Has gambling ever affected your reputation?

Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

Did you ever gamble to get money to pay debts or solve your money problems?

Did gambling ever affect your ambition or efficiency?

After losing, did you want to go back as soon as possible to win back the money you lost?

After winning, did you have a strong urge to go back and win more?

Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?

Did you ever borrow to pay for your gambling?

Have you ever sold anything to pay for your gambling?

Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" to pay for food, rent, or other expenses?

Did gambling make you careless of your own welfare or your family's welfare?

Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned to?

Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?

Have you ever done, or considered doing, anything illegal or bad to pay for your gambling?

Has gambling ever caused you to not sleep very well?

Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations make you want to gamble?

Do you ever want to celebrate by gambling for a few hours?

Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself because of your gambling?

Get Gambling Addiction Help in Illinois

If you want to quit gambling or have a loved one who needs to stop compulsive gambling, we’re here to help you. Gateway offers effective, life-saving gambling addiction treatment virtually in Illinois. We’ve been helping people with addiction in Illinois for over 50 years.

Give us a call at 877–377–2027 or fill our contact form and book an appointment for evidence-based gambling addiction help that will set you back on a path to a sober and fulfilling life.