A Guide to Gambling Addiction

By The Fix staff 07/21/14

Betting, wagering, routine financial risk-taking or speculation such as stock trading are so widespread as to defy the concept of gambling addiction. A majority of people at some point gamble for fun, sport or profit on casino-style card games, dice games, electronic games, betting on sports events, lottery tickets, bingo, stock and money markets, and even games of personal skill (pool, basketball, bowling etc.). By contrast, gambling addiction is defined as compulsively being driven to gamble despite mounting losses, the way others are driven to binge eating or any compulsive behavior such as washing one's hands repeatedly.

Compulsive or pathological gamblers cannot control the impulse to gamble, even when they know it is hurting themselves and their loved ones. They gamble whether or not they can afford to lose, whether the odds are for or against them, whether they are happy or depressed, broke or flush. 

How gambling affects the brain

Pathological gambling is associated with generally blunted prefrontal cortex activation from normal life rewards and heightened activation when exposed to gambling stimuli. Impaired decision making and impulse control have also been detected in pathological gamblers, as have other inhibitory processes of the brain.

Signs of Abuse

Signs that someone may have a gambling problem include such changes in behavior as frequent lying, routinely borrowing money with unfulfilled promises of early payback, difficulty dealing with emotions, and stealing or committing fraud not associated with drug abuse or addiction. The clearest sign, of course, is routinely chasing losses (trying to win back lost money), and obvious compulsion to gamble no matter the losses. Associated emotional/psychological effects can be a need to increase self esteem by feeling like a winner, or the need to medicate inner turmoil with excitement and pressure.  

Long term effects of abuse

Gambling addiction not surprisingly takes a serious toll on relationships and employment and often leads to debt, poverty and alcohol or drug use. The combination of emotional problems and isolation from former friends or family members along with loss of physical and mental health are other potential consequences.


Because every problem gambler is different, gamblers require a recovery program specifically tailored to their needs. Twelve step support groups are widely offered as well as four step cognitive behavioral therapy programs. Most programs offer information and advice on how to make necessary lifestyle changes that offer a substitute for the thrill that gambling provides.

Legal Status

The legality of certain types of gambling varies from state to state based on the following categories: casinos, lottery, online gambling and pari-mutuel wagering. Utah and Hawaii are the only two states that have outlawed all gambling, while laws vary in other states concerning the legality of gambling.









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