Help for Problem Gambling

FAQs: What is Problem Gambling?

Whether you’re seeking information for yourself or a loved one, we’re here to help you gain a better understanding of what problem gambling is, its impact and how to find support. Explore the following frequently asked questions to find valuable insights and resources related to problem gambling.

What is Problem Gambling?

What is problem gambling?

Problem gambling (sometimes referred to as “gambling addiction” or “gambling disorder”) is gambling behavior that is damaging to a person or their family, often disrupting their daily life and career. Anyone who gambles can be at-risk for developing a gambling problem. Gambling disorder is a recognized mental health diagnosis.

Some warning signs of a gambling problem are:  

  • Thinking about gambling all the time. 
  • Feeling the need to bet more money and more often. 
  • Going back to try to win your money back (“chasing losses”). 
  • Feeling restless or irritable when trying to stop or cut down. 
  • Feeling like you can’t control yourself. 
  • Gambling despite negative consequences.  
  • In extreme cases, problem gambling can cause bankruptcy, legal problems, losing your job or your family, and thinking about suicide. 

For more information on the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for gambling addiction, visit DSM 5 at www.psych.org. 

Isn't problem gambling just a financial problem?

No. Problem gambling is an emotional problem that has financial and other consequences. Even if the person pays off their gambling debts, they can still have other problems caused by gambling. The only way to overcome problem gambling is to change harmful gambling habits, and social support and encouragement are a crucial part of that change.

How much money do you have to lose before gambling is a problem?

The amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes problematic. While gambling can cause financial problems, it is not the only warning sign of a gambling problem. When gambling is interfering with an individual’s relationships, job, mental or physical health or any other area of life it is a problematic behavior.

Who is at risk for problem gambling?

Problem gambling does not discriminate and can impact anyone who gambles regardless of economic, social, cultural or levels of education. Anyone who gambles can develop a gambling problem. Certain factors can increase your risk of developing a gambling addiction, genetics, environment, medical history and age may all play a role. 

Can children and teenagers develop gambling problems?

Children and teens are at higher risk than adults for developing a gambling problem. Additionally, individuals who start gambling at a young age are also more likely to develop a gambling addiction later in life.

Do casinos, lotteries, and other types of gambling “cause” problem gambling?

The casino or lottery provides the opportunity for a person to gamble, but it doesn’t cause problem gambling any more than a liquor store would create alcohol problems.

What types of gambling cause the most problem gambling?

Since the cause of a gambling problem is a person’s inability to control their gambling, any type of gambling can become problematic. However, some types of gambling do have certain characteristics that may make gambling problems worse. While these factors are still poorly understood, anecdotal reports suggest that one risk factor may be a fast speed of play. In other words, the faster a wager reaches an outcome, the more likely players may be to develop problems with a particular game.

What is the responsibility of the gambling industry?

Everyone who provides gambling opportunities has a responsibility to develop policies and programs to address underage and problem gambling issues.

Can you have a gambling problem if you don't gamble every day?

The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether they have a gambling problem. Even if a person only gambles periodically, the emotional and financial consequences will still be evident in their personal and family life.

How can a person be addicted to something that isn't a substance?

Although no substance is ingested, someone with a gambling problem gets the same effect from gambling as one might get from taking a drug or drinking alcohol. Just as a person builds tolerance to drugs or alcohol, a person with unhealthy gambling habits finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before. This creates an increased urge for the activity and makes it harder to resist.

Are individuals with gambling problems usually addicted to other things too?

Generally, people with one addiction are more at risk to develop another. Some individuals who are impacted by problem gambling also have a problem with alcohol or drugs. However, this does not mean that if you have a gambling problem you are guaranteed to become addicted to other things. Some people with gambling problems never experience any other addiction because no other substance or activity gives them the same feeling that gambling does. There is also evidence of family patterns around dependency, as many people experiencing problems with gambling report that one or both parents had a drinking and/or gambling problem.

How widespread is problem gambling in the U.S.?

2 million U.S. adults (1%) are estimated to meet the criteria for a severe gambling problem in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3%) would be considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems; in other words, they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder but meet one or more of the criteria and are experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior. Research also indicates that most adults who choose to gamble are able to do it responsibly.

How widespread is gambling in the U.S.?

About 85% of U.S. adults have gambled at least once in their lives, with 60% having gambled within the past year. Some form of legalized gambling is available in 48 states plus the District of Columbia. The two states without legalized gambling are Hawaii and Utah.

What is the national social cost of problem gambling?

NCPG estimates that the annual national social cost of problem gambling is $7 billion.  These costs include gambling-related criminal justice and healthcare spending as well as job loss, bankruptcy, and other consequences. This estimate was based on research from the 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Commission and updated to account for inflation and current rates of problem gambling.