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What is Problem Gambling?

Most of the time gambling can be a fun and exciting social activity that many people from all different walks of life enjoy. However, sometimes gambling can get out of control and some people can develop a gambling problem. Problem gambling or gambling addiction is something that affects people from different backgrounds, age groups and cultures.

In 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a document published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) classified pathological gambling as “gambling disorder” and categorized the disorder as a form of substance-related or addictive disorders instead of an impulse control disorder.

Problem gambling is not just about someone gambling away all of their money, it is actually capable of affecting many aspects of a person’s life. Not only can it hurt you financially, but problem gambling can also get in the way of daily life and responsibilities like school and work.

On top of this, gambling addiction has the potential to seriously harm an individual’s mental wellbeing and, in some cases, physical health. It also has the potential to put a strain on the relationships with family and friend. We’ve put together a guide to problem gambling, to help you prevent, identify and combat gambling addiction. Let’s take a look at how you can stay in control of your gambling activity and avoid the potential pitfalls of wagering online.

Preventing gambling problems

One of the first steps in combating problem gambling is being mindful of your gambling habits from the beginning, as this can help identify early signs of trouble and prevent them from escalating into serious issues. Identifying traits such as an addictive personality will allow you to determine whether or not you’re prone to developing a gambling addiction. There a number of tests available online such as the National Council on Problem Gambling’s self-survey which aims to assess whether an individual is at risk of developing a gambling problem. However, it is always best to seek medical advice from a trained professional such as your doctor or a licensed mental health professional.

Another crucial step to help prevent yourself from developing a gambling problem is budgeting. Before you engage in gambling activity, allocate a set amount of money to spend on gambling over a certain amount of time and stick to it. If you don’t trust yourself to stick to a budget, casinos have measures in place to prevent you from spending more than you can afford to. These include setting loss limits and deposit limits on your online casino accounts. When budgeting it is wise to make sure to pay important bills, like your mortgage, on payday before you have an opportunity to gamble, this will help ensure that you stay on top of your finances.

When gambling online, remember to restrict your gameplay to licensed casinos. This is because all licensed and regulated casinos are required by law to have player protection measures in place. This protects vulnerable players and allows the operator to intervene if they suspect you may be exhibiting signs of a gambling problem.

We also suggest that when gambling online that you avoid using offshore gambling sites mainly because most of the time they do not hold a license to operate in your state or country and are therefore may not have the same safeguarding measures that regulated gambling sites are required to have.

You should always try to ask yourself, why you are gambling. You may go to the casino with your friends as a social activity, in which case as long as you enjoy it in moderation and don’t play irresponsibly, it should be a fun and safe experience. However, if you feel like gambling is an escape or you view it as a way to cope with issues then that may be an indicator that you could develop a gambling related problem. It is also very dangerous to think of gambling as a way to generate income. This kind of thought process can lead to you developing a gambling problem as gambling never guarantees a win, there is always a chance you will lose money.

If you do feel like you are a vulnerable player try to avoid or limit how often and how much money you gamble. It is always better to seek help before it is too late and you find yourself with a serious problem.

Symptoms of problem gambling

There are a number of symptoms that can indicate that an individual suffers from problem gambling. According to the APA’s fifth edition of the DSM, in order to be diagnosed as a problem gambler, a person must exhibit four of the following symptoms over a 12-month period:

  •    A preoccupation with gambling where it is one of the only things on your mind (e.g. trying to relive an exciting gambling experience, fantasizing about gambling, planning your next set of wagers, etc).
  •    Feeling the need to gamble more and more money in order to feel reach a desired level of excitement.
  •    Being restless or irritable when attempting to cut down on gambling activity.
  •    Having made repeated unsuccessful attempts to limit, cut down or stop gambling.   Gambling as a way to escape issues in their life.
  •    Gambling when feeling distressed, this includes feelings such as anxiety, depression, helplessness and guilt.
  •    Gambling more money soon after a massive loss in order to recoup losses, this is also referred to as chasing losses.
  •    Lying in an attempt to cover up how much money or how often an individual has gambled.
  •    Committing illegal acts to help fund gambling activity.
  •    Jeopardizing or losing a relationship, job activity, or educational opportunity.
  •    Relying on other people for money to fund gambling activity or help with financial issues that have stemmed from gambling too much money.


Problem gambling treatment

There are a variety of different treatments available for individuals that suffer from gambling addiction. Some methods of treatment include self-help, support from peers, and step-based programs.

All of these treatments have varying levels of success, mainly because each individual is unique and therefore respond to different treatments in different ways. In terms of medication, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medication for gambling addiction.

At the moment there is only one facility in the US that been given permission to treat gambling as an addiction. The Williamsville Wellness center located in Hanover, Virginia runs a gambling treatment program.

The other forms of gambling addiction treatment that are more widely available are:

Step-based programs – There are a variety of step-based programs available to those who suffer across the US. You can get step-based programs specific to healing different kinds of addiction including gambling addiction. These often emphasize healing addiction, helping to manage finances and working towards improving an individual’s mental well-being.

Motivational interviewing – Motivational interviewing is a method of counselling which aims to resolve feeling and insecurities and help an individual find the motivation within themselves to help change their behavior.

It is a short-term process that considers the difficulties in making changes to one’s lifestyle. It is commonly used to treat compulsive gambling and helps individuals prepare themselves to make a change. This form of treatment avoids aggressive and confrontational discussion, instead, the interviewer is empathetic and provides the interviewee with advice specific to them.

Peer support/support groups – support groups and peer support have become more and more popular with the rise of online gambling. Online peer support groups like forums or even gambling advice chats provide those who experience gambling addiction with anonymity and allow them to take things one step at a time and make changes while they are ready. The National Council on Problem Gambling has a live chat service where users can talk to an expert while remaining anonymous.

Real world support groups are also fairly popular, these allow people to get face to face support and share their experiences with others like them, letting them know they aren’t the only ones suffering. At the same time, this allows those who are suffering to support each other through group lead discussions and support.

Self-help– self-help treatment methods have been proven to help those who suffer from problem gambling, with more and more people overcoming addiction through natural recovery. This could involve just limiting yourself on much money you wager or cutting gambling out altogether. Everyone is different and therefore this may be more successful for some people than it is for others. There are also a variety of self help books which can help guide you through the process of recovering from gambling addiction. One of the most popular books, titled, A Day at a Time, is even used by the group called Gamblers Anonymous.

Self-exclusion – Voluntary self-exclusion is available in many different countries across the world including the US. This involves signing up to a list which will flag an individual as a person who suffers from some form of gambling addiction and prevent them from accessing a gambling venue or website for a set period of time.  This is intended to stop an individual from entering gambling premises and monitor their online gambling activity to help them stop or cut down. This method has varying degrees of success.

Time-outs – In case you don’t want to completely exclude yourself from gambling, responsible sites and venues offer different types of exclusion. Online casinos let you set time-outs which only allows gamblers to access their accounts for a set length of time.

Deposit and loss limits. A deposit limit will allow users to only deposit a certain amount of money into their account. Alternatively, a loss limit prevents players from losing a specified sum of money in a set time frame. For instance, you could set a loss limit of $100 on 2 December, and your losses will be tracked up to this point. If the loss limit is reached you won’t be able to lose any more until after this date.

Unsubscribe from promotional material – Online gambling sites allow users to unsubscribe from promotional and marketing material so they aren’t tempted to gamble.

Problem gambling resources

There are various non-profit organizations that operate in the USA with the sole intention of helping those that suffer from gambling addiction. Each of these organizations has a wide range of resources available, not just for those who suffer from gambling addiction but for those who have loved ones that suffer as well.

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) is a national organization that aims to lead state and national stakeholders in the development of policies and programs that look out for those who are at risk and suffer from problem gambling.

The NCGP has a large selection of resources available on its website from materials on awareness to financial issues. The NCPG even has a section on their site which breaks down all of the services and help that is available for each state.

You can contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline via:

Phone: 1-800-522-4700

Text: 1-800-522-4700

Online chat

Whether you’re gambling online or at a land-based casino or sportsbook, it is important that you gamble responsibly. If you believe that you, or someone you know, is suffering from a gambling problem, act now.

The people behind this page's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check the content on this page:

Jake is a gambling content specialist for, with a focus on the regulated US market. He is responsible for producing news content for News, state guides for US and has interviewed several senior executives within the gambling industry. Jake previously wrote for Gambling Insider and LGBT+ news site PinkNews.