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Gambling Addiction: The House Always Wins (It's Seldom Your House)

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Genevieve Cunningham

Gambling Addiction: The House Always Wins (It's Seldom Your House)

Gambling in the United States almost feels like a pastime. With cities like Las Vegas, televised events like the World Series of Poker, and activities such as fantasy sports teams and online sports betting, gambling is a popular activity. For the most part, we see gambling as all fun and games. But unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone.

In 2022, Americans gambled away almost 55 billion dollars. A large portion of this revenue came from innocent activities -- organized sports betting or occasional trips to the casino. But for a growing number of people -- more specifically, between one and two percent of the adult population in the U.S.—gambling is a serious problem. An addiction. And like any addiction, it leaves devastation in its wake, a sea of people with empty pockets wondering what exactly just happened.

What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction is a behavioral addiction. It is characterized by a compulsive need to gamble despite negative consequences. Unlike casual social gamblers who can gamble without adverse side effects, problem gamblers find themselves trapped in an addiction cycle, unable to stop and step away from the table. Even when their life is in shambles, they need their next fix -- whether that’s at the slot machines, the poker table, or somewhere else.

What Are the Signs of Gambling Addiction?

Problem gambling, also known as gambling disorder, can be a serious concern in the life of an addict. It’s real and scary and often overlooked. Unlike many other kinds of addiction, an addiction to gambling can be hard to spot. Luckily, researchers and doctors such as UCLA’s Dr. Timothy Fong, have helped pinpoint some of the most common signs of a problematic gambling habit.

  • Preoccupation with gambling - If someone is constantly thinking or talking about gambling, it might be indicative of a problem.
  • An inability to stop - This might sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked as a bad habit rather than a true addiction. Problem gamblers can’t seem to stop, even when the stakes are raised, and their lives are on the line.
  • Financial problems - Gamblers often have money woes before others even suspect an issue. Selling personal items, asking to borrow money, or always looking for a quick way to make a buck may all be red flags.
  • Lying or concealing habits - Casual gamblers, like those who bet on the Super Bowl or those who have an occasional poker night, will usually talk about it. After all, there’s nothing really to hide because it’s all innocent fun. Those with an addiction may begin to hide their habits or lie about their financial situation.

Who is Likely to Suffer From Gambling Addiction?

The harsh truth is that anyone can be affected by addiction. It’s not picky. But there are certain factors that might make you more prone to one type of addiction or another. For gambling addiction, researchers have noticed a few common traits among those who suffer from the problem.

  • People with psychiatric disorders - Those with psychiatric disorders are 17 times more likely to suffer from gambling addiction.
  • Extreme competitiveness - Some competitiveness is a good thing. It pushes us to succeed. But extreme competitiveness is present among the majority of those with a gambling problem.
  • Younger people -This is an addiction that hits younger people hardest. Young adults and those hitting middle age are the most likely group to deal with a gambling problem.
  • Restlessness or feeling easily bored - Some personality traits lend themselves to a higher risk of gambling addiction. Those who find themselves restless or easily bored with life may have a higher risk.
  • Being male - In the arena of gambling addiction, men outnumber women two to one. If you’re male, the odds are not in your favor.

Are you at risk? You could be, although most people are aware when their habits are spinning out of control. Do you know someone suffering from a gambling addiction? You might, especially since it’s a growing problem in the United States.

And if you need a reminder of how badly things can go, gambling is at the center of one of the biggest stories in baseball; Ippei Mizuhara, the translator for Dodgers pitcher Shohei Ohtani, allegedly amassed more than $140 million in winning bets but more than $180 million in losing bets and allegedly stole millions from his best friend.

What Are the Risks of This Addiction?

Many people feel that behavioral addictions are less risky than other kinds of addiction. Because there’s not a substance involved, it feels less life-threatening. On the surface, this may actually be true. While substance addictions can lead to dangerous side effects such as overdoses, gambling is unlikely to lead to serious physical consequences. But there are still life-altering risks.

  • Financial stress - The most obvious risk of a gambling addiction is financial ruin. When gambling gets out of control, it becomes easier and more likely to bet outside of your current means, leading to a risk of serious financial problems. In the most severe cases, bankruptcy becomes a real concern.
  • Relationship issues - Addiction is hard on relationships, and gambling addiction is no different. Addicts may find themselves at risk of losing some of their most important relationships with friends and family members due to stress, strain, and lack of trust.
  • Decline in mental health - Due to the strain that comes with gambling addiction, many find a serious decline in mental health. This particular addiction may lead to anxiety, depression, and feelings of despair. Getting help is crucial to long-term well-being.
  • Poor work performance - Addictions can take over our lives, and when they do, we often see the important things suffer. Besides seeing a decline in personal relationships, many also see a decline in work performance. This can ultimately lead to loss of employment, further exacerbating financial worries.

When you’re in the throes of addiction, you may overlook some of the risk factors. But this is your life and your bank account and your relationships. The most important thing to remember? You’re not alone. Help is out there, even when it feels like all hope is lost.

How to Get Help When You’re in Too Deep

For those struggling with a gambling addiction, there is hope on the horizon. You can stop gambling! All you need to do is ask for help. Various counselors and support groups can help you break the gambling cycle and stay motivated to remain far away from the poker table. Treatment may include ongoing behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist and regular visits to Gamblers Anonymous.

Like any addiction, the bulk of your success lies in your ability to reach out for help and follow through with a treatment plan. Breaking addiction, no matter the kind, is never easy, but your life is worth it. Throw your chips in, put in the work, and bet on yourself for a change. Leave all the other gambling habits behind you, but go all in when it comes to yourself. You can stop gambling and regain control of your life -- and that is a bet worth winning.

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