Understanding Problem Gambling


Most people are able to gamble for fun and entertainment. However, for some individuals, gambling becomes an issue in their lives.

Problem Gambling is the term most often used to describe gambling behaviors which causes harm to the gambler and/or to others close to them (i.e. spouses, children, etc.). These problems take many forms and sizes. For example, the gambler may have hurt him- or herself financially with problems ranging in severity from falling behind on the bills to losing their home or child’s college education fund. Or the gambler may be suffering psychologically, resulting in issues ranging from depression to domestic violence. Problem gambling often leads to disruption or damage to family, interpersonal or community relationships and other negative effects to the person’s physical and mental health and/or their performance in school or at work.

There is hope – problem gambling can be treated, no matter how big or small the problem may be!

Problem gambling is widely recognized as a chronic disorder marked by an uncontrollable urge to gamble. The individual cannot stop gambling despite ever-increasing negative consequences to him- or herself. Problem gambling includes, but is not limited to, the condition known as “compulsive” or “pathological” gambling.

“Pathological gambling” is the most severe form of problem gambling and has been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a disease since 1980. In order to be diagnosed with this disease, a problem gambling counselor or mental health professional will conduct a clinical evaluation to see if the individual meets 5 or more of the below criteria:

  • Preoccupation:   Frequent thoughts about gambling experiences (past, future, or fantasy)
  • Tolerance:           Need for larger or more frequent wagers to experience the same “rush”
  • Withdrawal:         Restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
  • Escape:              Gambling to escape from problems or feelings (i.e. depression, loneliness, etc.)
  • Chasing:             Try to win back gambling losses with more gambling
  • Lying:                 Lying about the frequency of gambling or amounts won or lost
  • Loss of Control: Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, reduce or stop gambling
  • Bailout:               Relying on others to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling
  • Illegal acts:         Breaking the law to obtain gambling money or recover gambling losses. Risked Significant Relationship: Gambling despite risking or losing a relationship, job, or other significant opportunity.

Only a mental health professional can accurately diagnose a gambling problem; however, self-assessment tests are often the first step in determining if a person may have gambling problem. If you, or someone you know, have any of the signs or symptoms listed above, you should take a self-assessment test:

Don’t worry. There is help available for everyone. Call the California Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER (426-2537).

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