Learning About Gambling Disorder

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What is gambling disorder?

Gambling disorder is a strong urge to gamble, even though it causes serious problems. You may feel that you can't control your gambling in spite of its impact on your finances, relationships, or self-esteem. It's a type of addiction. It may also be called problem gambling.

What are the symptoms?

There are many possible symptoms of gambling disorder. For example, you may:

  • Try but fail to quit or cut back on gambling.
  • Need to gamble more money to get the same thrill.
  • Feel restless or grumpy when you try to control or stop gambling.
  • Have repeated thoughts about gambling. For example, you may spend a lot of time thinking about past gambling. Or you may think about how to get more money to gamble with.
  • Lie to others about your gambling.
  • Gamble more to try to get back money you've lost. (This is called chasing your losses).
  • Use gambling to relieve negative emotions, like guilt or stress.
  • Harm or lose something important, such as a relationship or a job, because of gambling.
  • Need help from others to handle money problems caused by gambling.

The symptoms are similar to those of other addictions, such substance use disorder.

What puts you at risk?

What causes gambling disorder isn't clear, but certain things put people at higher risk. For example, it seems to run in families. Other things that increase your risk include:

  • Having other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
  • Having an alcohol or drug addiction (substance use disorder).
  • Being young and male. Anyone can develop a gambling problem. But it's more common in this group.
  • Being abused or neglected as children.
  • Having seen or been a victim of violence.

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor will ask questions about your behavior, such as whether you've ever lied about how much you gamble. The doctor may also review your medicines. (Certain medicines may make gambling behavior worse.) You may do a mental health assessment to find other conditions that may need treatment.

How is gambling disorder treated?

Treatments include:

  • Counseling. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you learn to manage your urge to gamble. It can also help you find other ways to cope with stress. Family therapy may help you repair relationships damaged by your gambling.
  • Support. Self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous support and educate people who are trying to regain control of their life.
  • Medicine. If you have another mental health condition, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat it. Conditions like depression and anxiety may make gambling disorder worse.

Gambling disorder can increase the risk of suicide, so it's important to get help. You can call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700. It provides resources and referrals for people who want to quit gambling.

If you're thinking about suicide or self-harm, go to 988lifeline.org or call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Or text HOME to 741741.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter G568 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Gambling Disorder".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.