Causes & Effects of Gambling Disorder

Gambling disorder, which is sometimes referred to as compulsive gambling, pathological gambling, or gambling addiction, is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling-related behavior that has a negative effect on an individual’s personal, professional, and social well-being. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, people who exhibit four or more of the following behaviors during a 12-month period meet the criteria for a diagnosis of gambling disorder:

  • Needing to gamble with increasingly larger amounts of money in order to experience the desired level of excitement
  • Becoming restless or irritable when trying to limit or cease gambling
  • Making several unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop gambling
  • Developing a preoccupation with gambling, including having persistent gambling-related thoughts
  • Gambling when feeling sad, distressed, or depressed
  • Chasing one’s losses by gambling more or with larger sums in order to regain money lost during a previous gambling episode
  • Lying or being otherwise deceptive in order to conceal the extent of one’s gambling
  • Jeopardizing and/or losing a relationship, job, or academic opportunity due to gambling
  • Needing to acquire money from other people in order to relieve financial problems caused by gambling

Gambling disorder is often accompanied by distorted thinking, such as engaging in superstitious behavior in the belief that one is able to exert control over the outcome of chance events.  Keystone treatment Center offers high-quality treatment for gambling disorders.

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Statistics

Estimations vary among sources, but most reports indicate that about 1 percent of the U.S. population exhibit behaviors that meet the criteria for a diagnosis of gambling disorder. Studies suggest that gambling disorder is about three times more common among men than among women. Gambling disorder appears to be much more common among older teens and younger adults. For example, the National Center for Responsible Gaming indicates that about 6 percent of college students have a serious problem with gambling.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that about half of all people who have gambling disorder have thought about suicide, and that 17 percent of people with this disorder have attempted to kill themselves.

Causes and Risk Factors for Gambling Disorder

As is the case with substance use disorders, a behavioral compulsion such as gambling disorder may result from the confluence of several genetic and environmental factors, including the following:

Genetic: People whose parents struggled or continue to struggle with gambling disorder are at increased risk for developing a similar problem. Also, gambling disorder appears to be more prevalent among individuals who struggle with another mental health disorder, which suggests that a genetic component may be at least partially responsible.

Environmental: Growing up in a family or community where gambling is common increases the likelihood that a person will engage in this behavior which, in turn, raises the risk of developing a gambling-related compulsion. Other environmental factors that may precipitate a gambling problem include experiencing stress, succumbing to peer pressure, and taking certain medications, such as ones that are sometimes prescribed to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome.

Risk Factors:

  • Being under age 30
  • Being male
  • Having a family history of gambling disorder
  • Gambling at an early age
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of another mental health disorder
  • Having a highly competitive personality
  • Having access to legal or illegal gambling facilities

Signs and Symptoms of Gambling Disorder

The following are among the common signs that may indicate that a person has developed gambling disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Neglecting family, friends, and other responsibilities in order to gamble
  • Chasing losses (betting more in order to recoup past losses)
  • Betting with increasing frequency
  • Betting larger and larger sums of money
  • Failing in one’s efforts to gamble less or to stop completely
  • Lying about one’s gambling behaviors
  • Borrowing or stealing money in order to cover losses or to continue to gamble

Physical symptoms:

  • Feeling an energy boost when winning
  • Feeling physical exhaustion after losing
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Failing health due to poor diet and lack of exercise

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Obsession with gambling
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Impulsivity
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling the need to gamble as a way of dealing with sadness or stress
  • Reliving or re-experiencing past gambling episodes
  • Experiencing guilt or remorse after gambling
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and non-gambling activities
  • Suicidal ideation
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Gambling Disorder

Untreated gambling disorder can cause lasting damage to a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and/or social well-being, including the following negative outcomes and effects:

  • Family discord
  • Separation and divorce
  • Loss of child custody
  • Financial devastation
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Substance abuse
  • Legal problems
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

In many cases, people who have gambling disorder are also dealing with another mental health problem. The following are examples of mental health conditions that have been known to co-occur in individuals who have also been diagnosed with gambling disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Personality disorders
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