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In the same way that drugs, alcohol, and other substances can cause addiction and compulsive abuse over time, certain behaviors can also cause these issues. Gambling is one such activity which, though it may start out as a fun pastime or hobby, can become compulsive and addictive, causing many problems for the gambler as well as their friends and family.
It is important to be able to recognize the most common compulsive gambling symptoms. Even if your gambling seems to be under your control, you may need to examine it and ask yourself if you are not exhibiting some of these symptoms, or if you may be in danger of experiencing them in the future.
Nearly every individual who is experiencing issues with compulsive gambling has some kind of financial problem because of it. According to the USDA, “One of the clearest indicators of a serious gambling problem is borrowing money to gamble or to pay off gambling debts. This is the heart of the security issue, which is the gambler’s need for money.” Compulsive gamblers constantly need more money in order to pay off debts and to continue gambling.
Some other financial issues experienced by gamblers are:
- Chasing one’s losses
- This occurs when a compulsive gambler loses money and then returns to the same casino or other gambling establishment the next day in order to win back the money they lost. This can start to snowball for almost everyone who does it and, eventually, they wind up losing quite a lot of money.
- Using money meant for other things on gambling
- Money meant for rent payments, groceries, bills, things needed by their children or other family members, etc. should be understood to be off-limits by the gambler. But if the individual begins to use these funds to gamble with, it is likely that they are already feeling a compulsive need to gamble
- Tolerance for Monetary Amounts
- According to the Mayo Clinic, an individual with a compulsive gambling problem may feel the need “to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.” This shows that the individual’s tolerance for gambling with the same amount of money every time goes up, and they need more in order to feel the same effects. This same issue occurs in substance use disorders.
Financial issues are one of the most common symptoms of compulsive gamblers, and they will affect almost anyone who cannot control their gambling addictions. Even if the individual does not seem to be in financial ruin as of yet, their behavior suggests that this issue could come about very soon.
A compulsive gambler will do anything in order to continue gambling. Even if they know that this activity is not good for them, they will not be able to stop. They will very likely even behave in ways that are extremely detrimental, even harmful, to them and to others. Compulsive gamblers are likely to be involved in many problematic and even illegal behaviors such as:
- Lying “to family members, therapists or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling”
- Stealing from friends, loved ones, or others in order to have more money with which to gamble
- Committing acts such as “forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement, in order to finance gambling”
- Acting out when unable to gamble to the point of violent and hostility
- “Losing a job, relationship, education, or career opportunity due to gambling” (NLM)
- This occurs because, in the case of compulsive gambling, the individual will not care about anything as much as they do about being able to gamble, causing other, more important matters to fall by the wayside.
A compulsive gambler will break promises, commit illegal acts, lie, steal, and do many detrimental things all in the name of gambling. They will not be able to stop themselves because their activity of gambling is just that, a compulsion. These issues also stem from the way gambling makes them feel, which are also common compulsive gambling symptoms of note.
Emotions of Compulsive Gamblers
A compulsive gambler will likely feel a certain way when they are able to gamble; they will usually feel a different way when they are not. Most compulsive gamblers also start out doing it for common reasons. According to the NLM, “gambling to escape problems or feelings of sadness or anxiety” is a common symptom of compulsive gambling.
Individuals who feel this way will start to believe the only way they can find happiness is through their gambling. But it takes an incredibly large toll on their life. There are other emotions you may feel about gambling that point to an addiction to the activity. These are:
- Feeling restless, irritable, or depressed when trying to quit gambling
- This is akin to a withdrawal syndrome, often experienced by drug abusers. Most compulsive gamblers try to quit or cut back but they are usually unable to, partly because of these feelings coupled with those of regret, loss, and failure. “Making many unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit gambling” is another common symptom of compulsive gambling.
- Feeling extremely excited or happy when winning money and extremely sad when losing
- These feeling will be much more intense in a compulsive gambler than someone who gambles socially.
- Only feeling happy when gambling
- If someone is only able to experience feelings of happiness, of completeness when they are gambling, it is a common symptom of compulsive gambling
- “Feeling bad after [they] gamble, but not quitting” (NLM)
- This is common in addicted individuals
Other Common Symptoms
Individuals who truly have a gambling problem will think about gambling all the time. They will always be trying to think of ways to get more money or “remembering past experiences” of gambling (NLM 1). People also have a higher chance of becoming compulsive gamblers if they are “children of pathological gamblers” (CRB).
It is important to realize that gambling can cause many of the same symptoms and behaviors that addictive substances can cause. Being able to recognize the common symptoms of compulsive gambling is necessary and may help you seek treatment before your condition worsens.