Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Disorder

Gambling involves betting or staking something of value, often money, on an event with the potential to win a prize. It can take place in many places and is an activity that people engage in for a variety of reasons.

Some people have a gambling disorder, an impulse control problem that can lead to serious issues such as financial problems, loss of employment, family distress, substance abuse and even suicide. It is estimated that about 2% of Americans have this condition. Gambling disorders are more prevalent in men and people with lower incomes. They also tend to affect younger people.

The first step in overcoming a gambling addiction is recognizing the signs and symptoms. These include:

Feeling a strong urge to gamble even when you know it isn’t a good idea. You may feel like you aren’t as responsible or mature as other adults, and you might lie about your spending habits to your family members.

Finding healthier ways to relieve unpleasant emotions. If you are gambling as a way to self-soothe emotions such as loneliness, boredom or anger, try replacing this behavior with more healthy activities. These could include exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or trying relaxation techniques.

Continuing to gamble even after you’ve had a big loss. If you keep gambling after losing a large amount of money, it’s important to recognize that you have a problem. You can find ways to manage your money and improve your focus by learning to budget, setting limits for yourself on how much you spend and practicing regular breaks from gambling.

Losing more than you’re winning. Whether you’re playing the lottery, scratch-offs or online casinos, odds are that you’ll lose some of the money you put up. Keeping this in mind can help you avoid becoming superstitious and attempting to predict the outcome of your game.

Becoming a secretive or manipulative person because of your gambling. You may hide your spending or lie about how much you’re betting, feeling that others won’t understand your gambling habit and hoping that you’ll surprise them with a big win.

It’s important to seek treatment for a gambling addiction because it can have devastating effects on your life and those of your loved ones. There are a variety of options for treatment, including support groups and individual counseling. Many states have gambling hotlines and other resources. Therapy can teach you how to cope with your triggers and build skills that will help you break the gambling cycle. You can also learn new coping strategies and work through any family, career or credit problems you’ve created as a result of your gambling. Talk to your healthcare provider for local referral resources. They may be able to recommend a certified gambling counselor or intensive treatment program in your area. They can also talk to you about family therapy, marriage and career counseling or debt management. These services can help you get back on track and rebuild your life.