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Gambling addiction

6-minute read

Key facts

  • People with a gambling addiction can't control their urge to gamble, even if they are losing a lot of money.
  • If you are addicted to gambling, the consequences can include financial losses, bankruptcy, losing a job, homelessness and the breakdown of personal relationships.
  • If someone you know has a problem with gambling, you may notice financial problems, relationship difficulties or symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
  • If you have a problem with gambling, you may feel compelled to gamble when you feel anxious or depressed, and you may find it difficult to stop.
  • Certain types of psychological therapy, for example, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), may help overcome gambling addiction.

When does gambling become a problem?

Most people who bet don't have a gambling problem, but some people become compulsive gamblers at some point in their life. People in this group lose control of their betting to the point that it negatively impacts their life.

Pathological (harmful) gambling can be a form of addiction. People with a gambling addiction can't control their urge to gamble, even if they are losing a lot of money. They are willing to risk something of value in the hope that the reward will be more valuable.

Gambling addiction can seriously affect all areas of life. Consequences of problem gambling can include financial losses, bankruptcy, losing a job, homelessness, mental health conditions and the breakdown of personal relationships. They can be serious not only for you, but also for members of your family and for your friends and associates.

If you are caring for someone with an addiction, it is important that you also continue to look after yourself. Visit the Carer Gateway website or call 1800 422 737 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm) for more information.

Does someone I know have a gambling addiction?

People with gambling disorder often hide their behaviour, but there are warning signs that gambling has become a problem for someone you know.

People with gambling problems may struggle with financial difficulties. Signs of financial troubles you may notice include:

  • borrowing money regularly
  • having multiple loans
  • unpaid bills
  • lack of food and household essentials
  • missing money or household valuables

Addiction can also cause changes in a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Signs of these changes you may notice include:

  • conflict with others
  • unexplained absences from important events or commitments
  • poor performance at work or school, and/or taking more sick days
  • feelings of helplessness, depression or feeling suicidal
  • withdrawing from family or at work
  • changes in personality or mood
  • an increase in alcohol or drug use

Do I have a gambling addiction?

If you have a gambling addiction, you are likely to experience some of the following:

  • spending more time and money on gambling than you intend to
  • 'chasing' losses: gambling to win back what has been lost, particularly after heavy losses
  • constant thoughts about gambling, and feelings of irritability or restlessness if you try to stop gambling
  • resorting to gambling as a way of coping with a bad mood, anxiety or depression, or feelings of helplessness or guilt
  • lying to cover up the extent of your gambling
  • missing important things in your life because of gambling, including family events, work or appointments
  • relying on others for financial support after heavy gambling losses

People with gambling addiction may be more likely than others to think about or attempt suicide.

If you, or someone else, are at immediate risk of suicide, call triple zero (000) now.

Why do people keep gambling?

Many factors may increase a person's chances of developing problems with gambling. Sometimes, people turn to gambling to escape from other difficulties in their lives.

Society accepts gambling and sees it as a part of normal life. That makes it very hard for people with a problem to keep away from it.

Gambling is a form of addiction. People with a gambling problem can have similar chemical changes in their brains to those seen in people addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Where can I get help with gambling addiction?

Certain types of psychological therapy, for example cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), may help someone overcome gambling addiction. Cognitive behaviour therapy involves looking at the logic behind gambling, such as the odds of winning, beliefs about luck and skill in non-skills-based games, and the likelihood of 'chasing' your way back to financial security.

Psychological therapies can also address underlying problems such as anxiety, depression or social isolation.

Some gamblers may find financial counselling helpful in offering alternatives to gambling as a way to financial recovery.

If you think that you or someone you know may have a gambling addiction, speak to your doctor. If needed, your doctor can provide a referral to a psychologist.

Resources and support

For more information and support, reach out to these resources:

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Last reviewed: October 2022

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