Problem Gambling

What is Problem Gambling?

Problem gambling, also called “gambling addiction,” happens any time a person’s gambling behavior becomes disruptive to their personal life. People with a gambling problem may gamble so frequently that it affects their friends, family and even the wider community. Sometimes, it takes many years before a gambling problem becomes obvious, because it may not be apparent until it reaches crisis proportions. If you struggle with problem gambling, you’re not alone – experts estimate that it affects nearly 10 million people across the US. LifeWorks NW offers free, state-funded, confidential treatment to those struggling with gambling addiction, as well as their family and friends. Contact us today to learn more.

Common Symptoms of Problem Gambling

Gambling is usually diagnosed as a problem when someone has experienced four or more of the following symptoms within the past year:

  • Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
  • Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
  • Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling
  • Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)
  • Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed)
  • After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even ("chasing" one's losses)
  • Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, education or career opportunity because of gambling
  • Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling

If you suspect you have a gambling problem, it’s important to be assessed by a mental health professional rather than trying to solve it alone.

There are other issues, such as ADHD or bipolar disorder, that can cause risk-taking behaviors. In addition, certain medications can cause compulsive behavior to develop. In these cases, addressing the root cause is necessary to help overcome problem gambling.

People with a gambling problem are also at a greater risk of developing other addictions, which may require specialized treatment. If you’re struggling with substance use, it’s important to reach out to a trained professional who can help.

Long-Term Consequences of Problem Gambling

An untreated gambling problem can be devastating to the person struggling and those around them. Left untreated, it can result in:

  • Relationship problems
  • Financial problems, such as bankruptcy
  • Issues with the legal system
  • Difficulty at work or job loss
  • Poor physical and mental health
  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

Often, people only seek treatment when they are truly desperate. If a gambling problem is caught early, these negative outcomes can be avoided.

Problem Gambling Treatment

While problem gambling was once considered an impulse control problem, the American Psychiatric Association now classifies it as an addictive disorder, based on research that shows it affects the brain in the same way as a substance use disorder.

Because gambling addiction is a long-term problem, treatment programs start at a minimum of one year, and can be extended beyond that. At LifeWorks NW, problem gambling treatment includes:

  • Counseling with a trained addictions specialist
  • Participation in support groups like SMART Recovery
  • Teaching budgeting skills
  • Creating limits on access to cash
  • Setting accountability goals with loved ones
  • Treatment for other mental health concerns or substance use disorders

The state of Oregon runs a free 24-hour helpline, as well as text and chat lines, to support people with a gambling addiction. You can call 1-877-MY-LIMIT or visit their website if you need to speak with someone immediately.

While reaching out to a helpline can be useful in the short term, overcoming problem gambling takes time and often requires professional support to resist the urge to gamble and get one’s life back on track. LifeWorks NW has been providing mental health and addiction services in Oregon for 60 years, and we are ready to help. To get more information about our services and make an appointment, contact us today.