Signs of a Gambling Problem

Worried young man checking phone.

Gambling is certainly not a new problem for Americans, but increased access to betting and online gambling platforms has certainly made the problem much, much worse.

Online gambling alone has grown from a $2.8 billion industry in 2017 to a projected $23 billion industry in 2024. Major sporting leagues are partnering with betting sites like DraftKings, adding betting lines and odds as part of every sports broadcast. It's estimated that as many as 20 million Americans have problems with chronic gambling, including nearly 500,000 teenagers.

Because gambling is so casual and easily available, it may be hard to know if your own gambling has become problematic. With that in mind, let's consider some of the bigger warning signs that you may have a problem with gambling.

Signs you may have a gambling problem

You can't stop thinking about gambling

Once gambling moves from "little hobby" to "full blown center of your universe" you know you've got a problem. . 

Still thinking about wagers you lost weeks ago? Looking forward to new opportunities to gamble? Thinking about how to find more money to gamble? These are all bad signs. If you're thinking about gambling consistently everyday, it's likely time to get help.

The rest of your life is suffering because of your gambling 

If gambling is having an adverse effect on multiple areas of your life, that's big red flag.

Falling behind in school? Struggling to get your work done? Losing connection to friends or partners? Family or loved ones expressing concern about your gambling?

Gambling may feel like it can only impact your finances, but out of control gambling can very quickly swallow up every aspect of your life if you're not careful.

You let your emotions dictate your betting

Gambling can be extremely satisfying when you win. It can be a way to escape your depression or anxiety. It can give you moments of intense hope and optimism.

But the more you let your gambling be decided by your emotions, the bigger your problems will get. 

Are you chasing losses with more bets? Are you chasing happiness and excitement with increasingly expensive bets because the smaller ones don't hit the way they used to? Are you betting when you're panicked about your finances and looking for a quick way to get back to even? These are all signs that your gambling is getting dangerous.

You lie about your gambling

Lying is a major warning sign for a wide range of problems, from shopping addiction to drug and alcohol abuse and beyond. When you're hiding things from the people around you, you're at least subconsciously aware that what you're doing is probably not good for you.

If you struggle to be upfront about your gambling or find that you're actively hiding the evidence of your gambling, that's a clear indication that your gambling isn't healthy.

Your finances are hurting

Leaving aside the ethics of any vice, there tends to be a fairly black and white measuring stick for whether or not you should be doing something: can you afford it?

Gambling may feel like "free money" and some people may genuinely be quite good at it. But most people tend to lose money gambling. And people with gambling problems often lose a lot of money.

If your finances are falling apart, if you're missing payments or frequently borrowing money you can't afford to repay, that's an extremely clear sign that your gambling has become a problem.

Resources for gambling addiction

If you recognize any of the above signs as being part of your relationship with gambling, consider getting help.

National helplines

Many countries have national helplines dedicated to gambling addiction. These helplines provide confidential support, information, and referrals to treatment services.

  • 1-800-GAMBLER is the National Problem Gambling Helpline. If you or a loved one is struggling with a gambling addiction, they can help connect you to appropriate local resources.
  • 1-800-662-HELP is the National Helpline for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). They specialize is routing callers to appropriate treatment providers for a variety of addiction and mental health concerns.

Support groups and counseling

Seeking help from a counselor or therapist who specializes in gambling addiction can be very beneficial. They can provide individual therapy and support tailored to managing the addiction.

You can also join a support group like Gamblers Anonymous (GA) to share experiences and gain insights from others going through similar challenges. GA follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and hold local meetings across the country.

Online resources

Many organizations offer online resources and self-help tools for gambling addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) website provides information, self-assessment quizzes, and resources for finding help.

Financial counseling

Gambling addiction often leads to sometimes severe financial problems. A financial counselor or advisor can assist in managing debts and developing a plan to regain financial stability.

MMI offers free financial counseling 24/7, online and over the phone. If you're worried about the damage gambling has done to your savings, credit, and overall financial health, we can help sort through your situation and provide personalized advice for how to reach your goals. Get started today and get the advice and support you deserve.

Tagged in Psychology and money, Helpful resources, Debt strategies

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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