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Problem Gambling Guide & Helpful Resources

Problem gambling is a psychiatric condition that affects more than 6 million adult Americans (about 2% of the population) according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). A gambling addiction is something anyone can develop regardless of age, race, gender, or financial status, but with proper education, you can learn to recognize the signs and how to go about getting treatment.

Read our problem gambling guide below to learn more on what it is, how to identify the symptoms, and where to get help for it in the United States.

What Is Problem Gambling?

Problem gambling (also called PG, gambling addiction, or ludomania) is an addiction or urge to gamble despite negative consequences and/or a want to stop. These consequences obviously include negative financial implications, but also symptoms that harm gamblers and the people around them in other ways.

Research suggests that problem gambling is similar in nature to substance addiction, and can serve as an indicator for the presence of other disorders such as depression, substance abuse, and anti-social afflictions. Problem gambling that goes untreated also carries a high risk in the increase of suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and one in five untreated problem gamblers attempts suicide according to the NCPG.

How Do You Recognize Problem Gambling?

Problem gambling in others (or even yourself) can be difficult to notice compared to substance abuse and other addictions. It can negatively affect an individual’s mood, behavior, health, emotions, and of course, their finances. Every person is different in how PG affects them, but some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Gambling with ever-increasing amounts of money in order to get a “rush”
  • A need to gamble more in order to make up for previous losses
  • Gambling more frequently, especially in place of other activities they once enjoyed
  • Neglecting work, family, and other responsibilities
  • Lying about the amount in which they gamble
  • Borrowing or stealing money in order to gamble more
  • Obsessively thinking about gambling
  • Unsuccessful attempts in the past to quit or cutback on gambling
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating, eating, or sleeping

A gambler doesn’t need to show every one of these symptoms to potentially have a gambling problem. And while this checklist offers good guidelines to measure if an individual might have an addiction, it is no substitute for an official health evaluation with a licensed physician.

There are several tests that screen for pathological gambling, such as the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS), the Canadian Problem Gambling Index (CPGI), and the National Opinion Research Center DSM Screen for Gambling Problems (NODS). Being screened for one of these tests by a psychologist can also reveal the presence of other psychological issues (such as kleptomania, substance abuse, and personality disorders), a common occurrence in problem gamblers.

Who Problem Gambling Affects

PG affects all ages and demographics, but higher risk groups include teenagers, college students, seniors, and casino workers. Research has also shown that Asians develop gambling problems at a higher rate than other ethnic groups, possibly in part to due to gambling’s high level of acceptance in the culture. And in the United States, between 15 to 20 million adults and adolescents are estimated to have problem or pathological gambling addictions according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

Beyond the individuals themselves, problem gambling can weigh heavily on families and children, causing domestic tension. One spouse distracted by compulsive gambling can lead to the other feeling overwhelmed from having to do double the domestic duties. This also applies to children, who suffer from the strain between their parents or feel neglected due to one spending all their time and money on gambling. Finally, stolen or “unknowingly borrowed” money amongst family members used to support a gambling habit can also lead to fiscal burdens.

Where To Get Help For Problem Gambling

If you suspect that you or a loved one suffers from problem gambling, there are many great resources in the United States from which you can seek help.

Gambler’s Anonymous (GA): Similar to that of Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, GA offers support groups and 12-step programs for compulsive gamblers. Open to all demographics and backgrounds, GA has over 1000 groups in the United States as well as many in other countries. A complete directory of meeting locations as well as the phone numbers for state-by-state help lines can be found at GamblersAnonymous.org/ga.

National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG): Serves as an advocate for programs that assist problem gamblers and their families. They also offer dedicated 24-hour confidential helplines via phone/text (1-800-522-4700), and chat (NCPGambling.org/chat), as well as a directory of counselors and treatment facilities on their site at NCPGambling.org.

Gam-Anon (Gam-Anon.org): Help organization that caters to the families and close friends of compulsive gamblers through the offering of support groups.

If you are thinking of encouraging someone you know to seek help, it is important to let the individual know how gambling has affected their lives and the lives of those around them. Remember that any such intervention or suggestion should come from a place of positivity and support, not one of aggression and resentment.

How Problem Gambling Is Treated

Like treatment for other addictions, problem gambling therapy is administered through a variety of methods, including:

  • One-on-one and group counselling
  • Peer-support groups
  • Self-help
  • Step-based programs (like that of Gambler’s Anonymous)

A method’s effectiveness varies from individual to individual, and it’s common for a combination of them to be used. Psychotherapy and peer groups that simply allow gamblers to have an outlet to talk about their challenges have shown to have a high success rate in the adjustment of gambling behaviors.

Medication is sometimes also prescribed, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any medications for the specific treatment of problem gambling. Certain antidepressants, SSRIs, and anti-seizure medications have shown to reduce the impulse to gamble.


This article is here for educational purposes only, and should not be used in lieu of professional guidance. If you or a loved one suspect to be suffering from problem gambling, we highly recommend reaching out to one of the organizations in the “Where To Get Help For Problem Gambling” section.