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Gambling addiction

3-minute read

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, often with serious consequences.

Others don’t know when to stop. They progress to pathological gambling, which 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 return will be more valuable.

If you are addicted to gambling, the consequences can include financial losses, bankruptcy, homelessness 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. These may include:

  • missing money or household valuables
  • borrowing money regularly
  • having multiple loans
  • unpaid bills
  • lack of food and household essentials
  • withdrawing from family or at work
  • changes in personality or mood
  • conflict with others
  • feelings of helplessness, depression, or feeling suicidal
  • unexplained absences from important events or commitments.
  • performance at work is affected, taking more sick days

Do I have a gambling addiction?

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

  • the need to gamble with more and more money to achieve a feeling of excitement
  • constant thoughts about gambling
  • repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or rein in gambling
  • irritability or restlessness if you try to stop gambling
  • resorting to gambling as a way of coping with anxiety or depression, or feelings of helplessness or guilt
  • 'chasing' losses: gambling to win back what has been lost, particularly after heavy losses
  • lying to cover up the extent of your gambling
  • losing a relationship or job because of gambling
  • 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.

Why do people keep gambling?

Many factors may increase a person's chances of developing problems with gambling.

Sometimes people find that other issues they are experiencing in their lives are the tipping point and they turn to gambling to escape.

Society condones 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.

Another is that there may be chemical changes in the brain, similar to those seen in people addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Where to get help with gambling addiction

Certain types of psychological therapy, for example cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), may help someone overcome gambling addiction.

Cognitive behavioural 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' one's way back to financial security.

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

Some gamblers may find financial counseling 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 in the first instance. If needed, your doctor can provide a referral to a psychologist.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2018

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