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Gambling addiction, like other impulse-control addictions, is considered a mental-health condition. Unlike drug addiction and alcohol addiction, compulsive gambling can take many forms, from not being able to leave the casino to buying hundreds of dollars worth of lottery tickets nearly every day. Even excessively betting on the stock market or compulsively placing wagers on the outcome of Sunday football games can reach the point where such activities are classified as an addiction. According to, it’s estimated that roughly 2%-5% of so-called social gamblers meet the clinical criteria of a gambling addiction.

Identifying a Gambling Addiction

While anybody can develop an addiction to gambling, teens tend to suffer the most, at twice the rate of their adult counterparts. The first step in treating any form of addiction is to identify the fact that you or a loved one actually is suffering from an addiction. While some addicts may take steps to conceal their addiction, there are certain signs that tend to become evident to friends and family over time. When confronted, many addicts tend to provide excuses and downplay the seriousness of the problem. However, this alone does not indicate an addiction. It’s usually a combination of factors that lead to an addiction diagnosis. Typical signs of a potential gambling addiction include:

  • Preoccupation with gambling, including compulsive thoughts about gambling
  • Gambling for the purpose of escaping personal or professional problems
  • Risking or sacrificing personal and professional relationships
  • Borrowing money from friends or securing loans for the purpose of gambling
  • Committing crimes to secure the funds for gambling
  • Becoming agitated or uneasy when someone suggests stopping all gambling activities

Diagnosing Gambling Addictions

It’s important to note that the individual with the addiction must come to a point where they realize they need help, otherwise it will be a losing battle trying to force someone to admit to something they don’t see as a problem. This, however, doesn’t mean that interventions, when done properly, can’t be successful in convincing an addict to seek treatment. Officially diagnosing an addiction to gambling typically involves a complete physical and psychological evaluation to rule out other potential causes for erratic behavior such as a reaction to medications. A thorough diagnostic evaluation to confirm an addiction to gambling generally includes:

  • Obtaining a complete medical history of the addict
  • Determining the extent of the addiction
  • Identifying possible alcohol and drug abuse

Gambling Addiction Treatment Options

Once an addiction has been confirmed, the next step is to find an effective gambling addiction treatment center. While long-term treatment options tend to be more effective (see below), everyone is different. The success of a particular treatment for addiction depends on the extent of the addiction. Some gambling addicts achieve reasonable success through short-term programs such as outpatient treatments while other individuals require more comprehensive treatments for a longer period of time, often coupled with treatments for other psychological challenges. Common treatments for gambling addictions include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy treatments (both inpatient and outpatient)
  • Psychotherapy (addressing gambling triggers)
  • Family therapy (to help heal damaged family relationships)
  • Inpatient treatment centers (accredited facilities tend to be more successful)
  • Outpatient treatments (usually community-based meetings and therapy sessions)
  • Customized treatment programs focusing on specific gambling addictions

Benefits of Inpatient and Long-term Treatments

While there are many options, inpatient treatments tend to be more successful than outpatient treatments or “quick fix” treatments involving a brief stay at a rehabilitation facility. According to, the one-year abstinence rate for addicts convinced to seek treatment through interventions is just under 10%. This rate tends to increase when there is a strong desire to overcome the addiction. According to one estimate, approximately 70% of gambling addicts have at least one other psychiatric concern, further complicating the treatment process. If underlying psychiatric problems aren’t treated, the odds of overcoming an addiction are greatly reduced. On the other hand, patients tend to be more successful when following a more comprehensive treatment plan. Long-term treatment plans for addiction tend to be more effective when combined with certain medications (such as carbamazepine and topiramate) to reduce impulses, follow-up support, psychotherapy and financial/debt counseling to address debts incurred while gambling. Benefits of long-term or inpatient treatments include:

  • 24/7 support and supervision
  • Various therapeutic activities
  • Little or no access to temptations
  • Concurrent treatments (for related disorders)
  • Time to identify psychological and behavioral concerns

Prognosis for Overcoming Gambling Addictions

Ultimately, the prognosis for overcoming an addiction to gambling is encouraging. It’s estimated that about two-thirds of gambling addicts abstain from “problem gambling” following treatments lasting at least six months or more, further echoing the benefits of long-term treatments for compulsive gambling. The prognosis is even better for individuals actively involved in follow-up prevention efforts compared to those not receiving any follow-up care after completing a treatment program.

The Full Impact of Gambling Addictions

According to, roughly $5 billion is spent in the United States every year on gambling, so it’s easy to understand how an addictive behavior can develop, especially when combined with physiological factors. Unlike alcohol addiction treatment, it’s not always as simple to avoid the temptation to gamble again, or relapse, given that there are so many different forms an addiction to gambling can take. Another obstacle to overcoming a gambling addiction is the quantity and quality of treatments. According to one estimate, about two-thirds of the individuals starting a treatment program leave their particular program too early, discontinue taking medications or fail to participate in follow-up programs. The biggest impact a gambling addiction can have is on the addicts’ family and friends. Employers also suffer due to decreased productivity. Additional potential impacts of gambling addictions include:

  • Increased odds of addiction-related domestic violence and child abuse
  • Higher risk of children of problem gamblers suffering similar issues
  • Addiction-related legal issues such as theft and prostitution
  • Financial problems, including high debt, bankruptcy and poverty

Preventing Gambling Addictions

There are very few warning signs that someone has an inclination to become addicted to gambling. The most effective preventative measure is education. While there is no surefire method to prevent a gambling addiction from developing, it is possible to reduce the impact of addictions by paying attention to the possible warning signs a loved one may display during the early stages of addiction. Early warning signs of a potential gambling addiction may include:

  • Excessive bragging about gambling wins
  • Frequently talking about gambling
  • Anticipating future opportunities to gamble
  • Unexplained absences from work or school
  • Excessive borrowing
  • Mood swings

While men tend to suffer more from compulsive gambling, studies suggest women are currently developing the disorder faster than men. Regardless of who is suffering from the addiction, the key to learning how to cope with the compulsive thoughts that allowed the addiction to become problematic is finding a gambling addiction treatment center that’s effective for that particular individual. As with other addictions, there is no “cure” that will automatically turn off the impulse to gamble. However, it is possible to develop effective coping mechanisms to live a healthy and productive life.

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