Are you or someone you know battling with gambling addiction? Take a few minutes to look through this guide and explore the signs, contributing factors, and resources for problem and compulsive gambling. While there is a lot of stigma around addiction, it is essential to remember that there is always help at hand. So, let’s get started.

What Is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling comes in various forms, from sports betting and lottery tickets to casino games like slots and roulette and even betting on horse racing. Since the introduction of online gambling sites and apps, gambling has become far more accessible, offering avid gamblers access to brick-and-mortar establishments, online gambling sites, and betting and casino apps that make it easier to gamble from just about anywhere.

Gambling typically begins as a fun pastime but can quickly go from a bit of fun to an unhealthy gambling addiction. Unfortunately, compulsive gambling can lead you to do things completely out of character and can potentially harm relationships, cause financial difficulties, and interfere with your daily life and occupation.

Gambling Addiction Explained

Gambling addiction, which is also referred to as compulsive gambling, pathological gambling, or a gambling disorder, is classified as an impulse-control disorder.

Compulsive or pathological gamblers don’t have the ability to control their urges or impulse to gamble, irrespective of the consequences these actions may have. For instance, a compulsive gambler may be down to their last dollar, and they will gamble it away instead of spending the money on food.

However, it is essential to understand that gambling addiction doesn’t look the same for everyone. Players can develop a gambling problem and still feel in control of their situation. Problem gambling refers to any gambling behavior that is disruptive to how you lead your life daily.

For instance, if you continually think about gambling, spending more time or money on gambling, or gambling even when you have severe financial constraints or other consequences, you have a gambling disorder.

Gambling Addiction – What Causes It?

Gambling disorders are often associated with other mood, behavioral disorders, or a mental health condition. Many who battle gambling addiction also suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, unmanaged Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and other substance abuse concerns. Since gambling addiction often goes hand-in-hand with these other issues, to resolve your gambling problems, you will need to address these other underlying symptoms too.

While gambling addiction can feel insurmountable, there are several ways to treat problem gambling, overcome your addiction, and get your life back on track.

Who Does Gambling Disorders Affect?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, gambling addiction typically affects young adults and adults. While most states prohibit gambling for anyone under the age of 18 (sports) or 21 (casinos), those who enter this age group are more prone to developing gambling disorders, with gambling from a young age ranking as a risk factor for developing gambling problems.

Gambling disorders affect between 2% and 4% of the United States population. However, researchers predict this number could be higher as not everyone with addiction receives a diagnosis or assistance.

Types of Addictions

According to the Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Center, six types of gambling addiction exist, all with their own level of risk. But, it is essential to understand that while a gambler may fall into one of these categories, it does not mean they have an addiction. To be classified as having an addition, a player must display the signs and symptoms, which we will discuss in the next section of this guide. But for now, let’s look at the addiction types:

The Professional Gambler

A professional gambler is someone who makes gambling their full-time occupation and lives off their winnings. These players are highly skilled and can easily calculate the risk of a bet, making it simpler to pinpoint potential wins.

Since professional gambling requires a great deal of skill, patience, and control, these players can easily walk away when on a winning streak, classifying them as low-risk for developing an addiction. However, this is merely a rule of thumb and doesn’t mean that professional gamblers can’t develop a gambling problem.

The Casual Social Gambler

Recreational or casual social gamblers have a very low risk of developing a compulsive gambling problem. These players typically wager bets here and there as a form of fun or entertainment and balance their gambling practices well.

Gambling doesn’t play an important role in a recreational gambler’s life. These are the players that will purchase a lottery ticket on the way home from work because they happened to think about it or are feeling lucky or the friend that holds a friendly bet with you on the NBA Championship game.

While these players are low-risk for developing gambling disorders, it could still happen due to trauma or loss.

The Serious Social Gambler

This gambler is a step up from the recreational gambler. These players take their gambling more seriously and will often participate in gambling on a regular basis. However, this may not mean the person is struggling with an addiction.

Although a serious social gambler may enjoy gambling, the activity rarely becomes more than a hobby. For instance, think of someone who goes to play bingo weekly with their friends. While they enjoy it, it isn’t going to affect their daily life.

Because these players participate in gambling more frequently, they have a slightly higher risk of developing a gambling addiction than recreational gamblers. Still, again, it would take something serious to get them to cross into that level of play.

The Antisocial Personality Gambler

These gamblers typically also make a living from gambling activities. However, they differ from professional gamblers because they have antisocial personalities.

While these players usually have some level of gambling skill, many tend to participate in illicit gambling activities, such as fixed bets or using marked cards. They may also have a record of illegal wrongdoings.

Psychologists typically describe antisocial personalities as irritable, deceitful, and often manipulative. In this case, the player has a mental health condition that sets off a gambling habit rather than an addiction that enhances their unique personality traits.

The Relief and Escape Gambler

These gamblers are typically on the precipice of becoming addicted to gambling. A gambler that falls into this bracket typically uses gambling as an emotional crutch or an escape from a situation or emotion they are having difficulty facing or processing.

A relief and escape gambler may use the activity to avoid dealing with anxiety, depression, boredom, loneliness, or anger. These players generally have some control over their actions, but this may change if they experience a shift in their current situation. For instance, being fired, losing a family member or friend, or arguing with a loved one could cause this shift.

The Compulsive-Pathological Gambler

Pathological gamblers are addicted to gambling and can no longer control their gambling behaviors or habits.

Many compulsive-pathological gamblers have a difficult time balancing their feelings of guilt and self-worth. In most instances, problem gamblers face additional dependencies, like chemical addiction to drugs or alcohol or mental health disorders. These players often display several self-destructive behaviors despite the consequences that await them.

Recognizing Signs of Problem Gambling

One of the best steps to helping yourself or someone you know who you suspect of having a gambling problem is knowing what to look out for. According to, for an individual to receive a diagnosis of gambling addiction, they must display four or more of the symptoms described below. However, it is also essential to note that these symptoms must all have been present during the past 12 months.

  • Needing to continuously increase the value of the bets placed to achieve the desired thrill or excitement
  • A continual or frequent preoccupation with gambling, like persistent thoughts relating to gambling and gambling funds, reliving past gambling activities or outlining plans for future gambling activities.
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to get gambling habits under control, reduce gambling activities, or stop gambling altogether.
  • Feelings of restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
  • Using gambling as a means to cope with feelings of distress, anxiety, or depression
  • Returning to attempt to win back funds or break even after losing money while gambling. (We refer to this as “chasing” losses.)
  • Lying or being deceitful or manipulative to hide gambling activity.
  • Risking things that most people hold in high regard, including jobs, close relationships, or other potential opportunities.
  • Relying on family, friends, or acquaintances to assist with money problems that arise from gambling

It is worth noting that those with a gambling addiction can, and sometimes do, have periods where these symptoms lessen or subside completely. However, this does not mean that the problem has “gone away,” and it is always best to get treatment.

Factors Contributing to Gambling Addiction

There are several “causes” and risk factors contributing to gambling addiction. So, let’s take a closer look:

Gambling Addiction – Possible Causes

While there is little understood about what “causes” gambling disorders, researchers find that biological, genetic, and environmental elements can contribute to an increased risk of players developing a gambling addiction.

For instance, those with family members who have addiction problems may also develop a gambling problem. Mental health disorders, some medications, personality traits, and exposure to gambling from a young age can all put an individual at risk of developing a gambling problem.

However, not everyone exposed to these factors will become a problem gambler.

Risk Factors for Problem Gambling

Not everyone who visits top online casinos is at risk of developing a gambling addiction. However, there are some factors that addiction specialists associate with pathological or compulsive gambling. So, let’s look:

Mental Health Issues 

Problem gamblers often suffer from substance abuse issues, depression and anxiety, and personality disorders. Other mental health disorders that may pose a risk factor include bipolar disorder, ODC (obsessive-compulsive disorder), or ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).


Researchers find that compulsive gambling is more prolific in men. Women often begin gambling later in life, but they run the risk of developing an addiction to the activity more quickly.


As mentioned earlier in this guide, compulsive gambling is more prevalent in middle-aged individuals and young adults. Additionally, frequent underage gambling can also lead to the development of gambling addiction.

External Influence

If those you spend time with regularly have a gambling disorder, you may have the same problem.


Some medications (like those used to treat Restless Leg Syndrome and Parkinson’s Disease) are called dopamine agonists and offer a rare side effect that can exacerbate compulsive behaviors like gambling.

Specific Personality Traits

Individuals that have key personality characteristics such as being overly competitive, impulsive, restless, or obsessive may be at an increased risk of developing a gambling problem.

Impact on Mental Health and Relationships

Compulsive gambling can affect more than just your financial situation. Those suffering from gambling addiction often suffer from low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety.

Like other addictions, gambling can stimulate the release of the hormone dopamine. Often described as our “feel-good” hormone, dopamine stimulates feelings of happiness and reward, particularly when a player wins a bet.

Pathological gamblers often turn to gambling to boost their self-esteem, happiness, and that emotional buzz. This, in turn, can have an adverse effect when players begin to feel things like guilt, lack of control, and depression after they have gambled. Here, players turn back to gambling to get rid of these feelings and replace them with the “happy buzz” gambling gives them, creating a destructive cycle and a gambling addiction.

Since this emotional high from compulsive gambling often feels like the be-all and end-all, pathological gamblers will stop at nothing to get that next “fix.” This may mean stealing from those they care about to gain gambling funds, lying to those they care about, and behaving erratically.

Unfortunately, this is what destroys relationships. Family members and friends of problem gamblers often tire of bailing them out financially or being on the receiving end of lies and manipulations.

The upside here is that there are ways to redirect your brain chemistry and find other more healthy ways to experience happiness and fulfillment.

Responsible Gambling Practices

Responsible gambling is where players enjoy wagering on sports, horses, casino games, or taking lottery tickets or scratch cards for fun without overstepping their means.

According to Jennifer Shatley, President of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, gambling can become problematic when players use more funds than they have to place bets or gamble to try and recover lost funds. However, many players in these situations don’t see themselves as having a gambling addiction or disorder and may not feel responsible gambling practices apply to them.

So, what is responsible gambling? Jennifer Shatley defines it as taking breaks between gambling activities, not using it to generate an income, and only betting with money you can afford to lose. Additionally, to gamble responsibly, players should limit the time and money they spend on the activity.

In the interest of protecting gamblers and doing their part to alleviate or prevent gambling addiction, casinos, particularly the top online casinos (see how we rate them here), offer several features that players can implement to help them better manage their gambling habits. So, let’s look at what some of these are:

KYC Processes

While online casinos must, by law, implement KYC gambling policies, this serves a purpose beyond monitoring players for fraud and money laundering. Know Your Customer practices allow online casinos to monitor player accounts and pick up on an uptick in the values wagered and the amount of time spent betting. A player is often then required to submit a Source of Wealth statement. The online casino can suspend their account if the funds used to gamble are not within the player’s means.

Time and Budget Limits

Many of the best online gambling sites allow players who have an account set up to set timers and budget limits. Here, a player can set a limit, for instance, two hours, in which they can play. Once the time limit is reached, the online casino will bring up a pop-up noting the player that their playing time is up.

Similarly, budget limits allow bettors to play and wager using a pre-determined portion of their bankroll. Once that limit is met, the online casino won’t let the player place any further bets for that day.

Cooling Off Periods

Some online casinos allow players to participate in a cooling off period, which typically lasts around 24-hours. Here, the online casino or sportsbook will suspend the player’s account, making it inaccessible for the next 24 hours, giving the gambler time to take a break and regroup.


Self-Exclusion or Voluntary-Exclusion refers to a policy put in place by a casino or gambling institution that helps gamblers address problem gambling.

Individuals who are aware they have a gambling addiction or are perhaps heading in that direction can voluntarily apply for self-exclusion by completing a form, typically found at online gambling sites. If a player’s request is accepted, they are added to the self-exclusion list.

From this point on, the player is legally banned from all gambling institutions, both in person and online. Additionally, the individual will cease to receive marketing correspondence from all gambling facilities they may have signed up with.

Gamblers who attempt to bypass the self-exclusion program can be arrested and charged. Typically the self-exclusion period lasts anywhere from six to 12 months.

External Gambling Addiction Resources

Many online casinos and sportsbooks will offer several resources or links to external resources like gambling helplines and problem gambling websites that offer more extensive solutions for pathological gamblers.

Steps to Seek Help for Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction can be tough to navigate. However, there are several steps you can take to get back on track and regain control of your life. Below, we offer several steps that may be helpful.

Step One: Admitting There is a Problem

The first, and best thing you can do is acknowledge there is a problem. By looking at the list of symptoms further up in this guide, you can begin to identify whether you may have a gambling problem. If the answer you end up with is yes, acknowledging this and accepting it is the very first step.

Once you have identified the problem it becomes easier to build a way forward and focus on resolving your problem gambling issues.

Step Two: Identifying Your Triggers

Taking the time to understand what triggers you to go and gamble is the next step. Perhaps it is spending time with others who gamble a lot, or a bad day at work, or a lack of self-esteem. Whatever your trigger is, identifying what that might be will help you to be more mindful and try to stay away from these and find better ways to deal with them.

Step Three: Identify Thoughts and Feelings Regarding Gambling

Compulsive gamblers will tell you that the urge to gamble is a strong one. Paying attention to your thoughts and feelings can help you overcome the compulsion to gamble. For instance, if you find yourself daydreaming about gambling, try to focus on something else. Similarly, if you know that when you feel bored, you find yourself resolving that feeling by gambling, attempt to find another way to quell that feeling, like going for a walk or calling a friend,

Step Four: Steer Clear of High Risk Circumstances

Here, it is worth taking the time to unsubscribe from marketing emails and text from gambling sites. Additionally, if you have friends or family members that gamble, avoid heading out to a gambling establishment with them and advise them of the choices you are making for yourself. If you’re really serious, applying for self-exclusion is a good way to keep yourself on track. Here is a list you can follow:

  • Unsubscribe from gambling marketing communications
  • Cancel your credit cards
  • Do not attempt to take out a loan
  • Avoid land-based casinos, and if necessary take a different route home from work
  • Uninstall any gambling apps you may have
  • Only carry small amounts of cash
  • Avoid others who gamble regularly
  • Apply for self-exclusion

Step Five: Delay Your Gambling Attempts

If you find yourself fighting the urge to go gambling, keep at it. While this can be extremely difficult, allowing an urge to pass will leave you feeling less like you want to go and participate. It will also leave you feeling more in control and is a good way to begin readjusting what triggers the release of dopamine.

There are several ways to distract yourself for example, reading a book, watch your favorite show, take a hot shower, or call a buddy.

Step Six: Pinpoint Healthy Alternatives to Gambling

Find other ways to use your time. If you have a gambling addiction, you may find that a lot of your time was spent gambling. However, if you are trying to break the cycle it becomes imperative to fill that space with something healthy and positive. For example, you can take up a new sport or hobby, exercise, practice meditation or mindfulness, begin volunteering, or join a group activity.

Step Seven: Speak To Someone

If you are finding it difficult to break away from gambling, the next step is to talk to someone.Whether it is a friend, a family member, or a counsellor, talking it through will give you the support you need to keep going and the accountability necessary to help you stay the course. Joining a support group is always beneficial.

Step Eight: Get Help

There is no shame in getting help. In fact, it is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Whether it is signing up for rehabilitation programs, joining a 12-step program, visiting a mental health professional, or joining gambling addiction meetings. This is the best step to getting your life back on track.

The Role of Casino-Reviewing Websites

While many gamblers are well aware of gambling addiction and the fraud and money laundering that gambling establishments can attract. However, this is where casino-reviewing websites steal the show.

These sites provide detailed reviews of the best online casinos and sportsbooks. The reviews highlight for players those casinos that operate under an online gambling license and practice online gambling safety. These sites are governed by gambling authorities that ensure they maintain a high standard of gambling and provide fair gaming. Additionally, these sites offer responsible gambling options.

Casino-reviewing websites also provide informative articles that help players make more informed bets and offer articles on gambling safety and responsible gambling that can help those in need.

Government and Industry Initiatives to Address Addiction

The US Government and key industry players have put several initiatives in place to help those battling gambling addiction. Pathological gamblers have access to a range of resources that will help them manage their addiction, from 12-step programs and rehabilitation programs, to Gamblers Anonymous and other top initiatives. Individual states also provide specific programs for those residing in the state to utilize. Below, you can find a list of the top gambling addiction resources:

National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)

Gamblers Anonymous (US)

National Suicide Prevention Line


Gambling addiction is a disorder that can quickly spiral out of control, causing interference with your daily life, job, and relationships, and can quickly lead to financial difficulties. However, there are several ways to prevent problem gambling and multiple resources to help you if you or someone you know has a gambling addiction. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help for yourself or someone you love.