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Mental Health Matters


Gambling can become compulsive for some people. Compulsive gamblers don’t feel in control of their gambling even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. If you or a loved one is preoccupied with gambling, spending more time and money on it than you want, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences, it’s important to seek help.

Signs & Symptoms

Gambling problems are more common among men. In a classic pattern, it progresses from being an occasional activity to an ongoing habit and the size of the wagers steadily increases. Compulsive gamblers may avoid daily responsibilities and engage in illegal activity to support their habit. Compulsive gamblers often have other behavioral disorders including panic disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse, particularly alcoholism.

Compulsive gambling includes:

  • Being secretive about gambling
  • Having trouble controlling gambling, spending down to the last dollar
  • Gambling even when there’s no more money, borrowing, stealing or leveraging credit cards to fund gambling
  • Becoming increasingly defensive about gambling
  • Making family and friends increasingly worried as it spirals out of control

Tips & Recommendations

Compulsive gamblers are obsessed with gambling to the exclusion of other activities in their lives. In the United States, the number of compulsive gamblers has risen threefold over the past 20 years.
Gambling compulsion is sometimes referred to as a "hidden illness" because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers typically deny or minimize the problem. They also go to great lengths to hide their gambling.

If you know someone who shows signs of having problems with gambling, try to get them into treatment. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTS) can help you or a loved one cope with gambling problems. Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, may also be a helpful support group.

Additional Resources

Gamblers Anonymous

Harvard Medical School: Compulsive Gambling

NCPG: National Council on Problem Gambling

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