What Is Gambling Addiction?

what is gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is when the lure of the bet is all someone can think about. Gambling is defined as any risk of losing money or belongings, and when winning or losing is decided mostly by chance. Gambling is a $4 billion dollar industry in the US, and its growth is likely to continue. There are many different ways to gamble, including casino games, slot machines, roulette, blackjack, poker, baccarat, bingo, lottery tickets, sports betting, internet gambling, and the stock market.

People gamble for different reasons: to win money, to socialize, for excitement, or to pass time. For some people, gambling may become a serious problem that affects all aspects of their lives. And as gambling becomes more accessible, the number of people affected by problem gambling also increases.

 “Problem gambling is gambling behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational.” – National Council on Problem Gambling

Gambling Addiction Is As Old As The Hills

Gambling is one of mankind’s oldest activities, as evidenced by writings and equipment found in tombs and other places. It was regulated, which as a rule meant severely curtailed, in the laws of ancient China and Rome as well as in the Jewish Talmud and by Islam and Buddhism, and in ancient Egypt inveterate gamblers could be sentenced to forced labor in the quarries. The origin of gambling is considered to be divinatory: by casting marked sticks and other objects and interpreting the outcome, man sought knowledge of the future and the intentions of the gods. From this it was a very short step to betting on the outcome of the throws. The Bible contains many references to the casting of lots to divide property. One well-known instance is the casting of lots by Roman guards (which in all likelihood meant that they threw knucklebones) for the garment of Jesus during the Crucifixion. This is mentioned in all four of the Gospels and has been used for centuries as a warning example by antigambling crusaders. However, in ancient times casting lots was not considered to be gambling in the modern sense but instead was connected with inevitable destiny, or fate. Anthropologists have also pointed to the fact that gambling is more prevalent in societies where there is a widespread belief in gods and spirits whose benevolence may be sought. The casting of lots, not infrequently dice, has been used in many cultures to dispense justice and point out criminals at trials—in Sweden as late as 1803. The Greek word for justice, dike, comes from a word that means “to throw,” in the sense of throwing dice.

The passion for gambling has grown over the centuries and escalated in the United States when gambling became legal in Nevada in 1931 and later in Atlantic City in 1978. Since then casinos have proliferated in other states and areas and gambling became more accessible. Gambling became even more popular when gaming became available on the Internet.

Effect On The Brain

The excitement derived from gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs and alcohol. On rare occasions, gambling becomes a problem with the very first wager. But more often, a gambling problem progresses over time. In fact, many people spend years enjoying social gambling without any problems. But more frequent gambling or life stresses can turn casual gambling into something much more serious. During periods of stress or depression, the urge to gamble may be especially overpowering, serving as an unhealthy escape. Eventually, a person with a gambling problem becomes almost completely preoccupied with gambling and getting money to gamble.

Short Term Effects

A growing preoccupation with taking risks, and always thinking about gambling when not actively engaged in gambling. Talking about gambling exploits from the past. Spending time gambling instead of working or being with the family. Lying about where you are or what you’re doing. Lying about how much you lost. Feeling bad after gambling but not quitting. Gambling with money needed take care of the family. Getting a thrill from taking a big gambling risk and progressively needing to gamble more with bigger stakes. For many compulsive gamblers, betting isn’t as much about money as it is about the excitement. Sustaining the thrill that gambling provides usually involves taking increasingly bigger risks and placing larger bets.

Long Term Effects

Unlike most casual gamblers who stop when losing or set a loss limit, compulsive gamblers are compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time.

  • Sleep Disturbance/insomnia
  • Shame
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Lying
  • Denial of the problem
  • Fear of being exposed
  • Rationalizing behaviors social withdrawal, isolating,
  • Psychological distress
  • Other addictions like food, drugs, alcohol, people
  • Preoccupation with gambling to crucial mistakes in work and at home
  • Physical illness colds and upper respiratory illness resulting from stress
  • Depression


  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritation
  • Guilt
  • Shame

Methods of Abuse

The uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Compulsive Gambling means that you’re willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value. If you’re prone to compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction. Compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives.

Criteria for Dependence include the following

  • Tolerance: there is a need for increased amounts of gambling to achieve desired effect. This means there is a diminished effect over time that creates a demand for more.
  • Withdrawal: characteristic symptoms occur (e.g., anxiety, depression) when gambling is stopped, so gambling must be resumed to relieve or avoid symptoms.
  • Intention Effect: gambling is often increased, and a longer time is spent at it and greater losses than were intended.
  • Lack of Control: a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control gambling.
  • Time: more and more time is spent in gambling activities
  • Reduction in Other Activities: social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of gambling
  • Continuance: gambling is continued despite unbearable losses of money and relationships. 

Other names

  • Compulsive Gambling
  • Pathological Gambling
  • Gambling Disorder

If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, check out  Gamblers Anonymous