Problem Gambling and Gambling Addiction

Is Gambling Always a Problem?

stacks of chips at gambling table
Simon Webb and Duncan Nicholls/OJO Image/Getty Images

There are three common types of gambler, the professional gambler, the social gambler, and the problem gambler. Be aware that the problem gambler will often believe themselves to be, or pretend to be, a social or professional gambler.

Professional gamblers are the rarest form of gambler and depend on games of skills rather than luck to make money. They have full control over the time, money and energy they spend on gambling. Social gamblers consider gambling to be a valid form of recreational activity and maintain full control over the time, money and energy they expend on gambling. They consider the cost of gambling to be payment for entertainment.

What Is Problem Gambling and Gambling Addiction?

Problem gambling involves the continued involvement in gambling activities, despite negative consequences. Gamblers can have a problem without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behavior that disrupts your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, or gambling despite serious consequences, you have a gambling problem.

Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder in which sufferers cannot control the impulse to gamble despite the fact that it is causing problems in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

All gambling addicts are problem gamblers, although not all problem gamblers have a gambling addiction.

Signs of Addiction

While there are no obvious symptoms or physical signs of gambling addiction as there are in other types of addictions such as drug and alcohol, there are some red flags that signal a problem: 

  • Feeling the need to be secretive about gambling. 
  • Feeling a high or thrill from making big bets
  • Using gambling as a way to escape life's challenges
  • Gambling even when money is not available and accumulating debt
  • Having family and friends who worry about your gambling. 
  • Continuing to gamble despite the consequences. 
  • Having another behavior or mood disorder. 


Often, many things contribute to a gambling addiction, including biological, genetic and environmental factor.

Addicted gamblers may notice they feel desperate for money, get a thrill or high from gambling, seek the social status of a successful gambler, and have other mood and behavior disorders that contribute to or result from their gambling addiction. 

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

Like other addictions, breaking the cycle of gambling addiction can be very difficult. Feeling like you may be able to win back the money you've lost may fuel the problem. While quitting gambling is not easy, it can be done. There are three main methods of helping patients overcome gambling addiction. They include: 

  • Psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, focuses on teaching skills to change the thoughts and behaviors that lead to gambling. 
  • Medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers may be helpful for patients who have other psychiatric disorders that accompany their gambling problem like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or ADHD. In addition, certain medications known as narcotic antagonists that have been found useful in treating substance abuse may also be helpful in treating some patients with gambling addiction.
  • Self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which can be an extremely helpful part of treatment as well as prevent relapse. 
7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cowlishaw S, Merkouris S, Chapman A, Radermacher H. Pathological and problem gambling in substance use treatment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2014;46(2):98-105. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2013.08.019

  2. oannidis K, Hook R, Wickham K, Grant JE, Chamberlain SR. Impulsivity in Gambling Disorder and problem gambling: a meta-analysis. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(8):1354-1361. doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0393-9

  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Gambling Problems: An Introduction for Behavioral Health Services Providers. 2014.

  4. Yau YH, Potenza MN. Gambling Disorder and Other Behavioral Addictions: Recognition and TreatmentHarv Rev Psychiatry. 2015;23(2):134-146. doi:10.1097/HRP.0000000000000051

  5. Okuda M, Balán I, Petry NM, Oquendo M, Blanco C. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Pathological Gambling: Cultural ConsiderationsAm J Psychiatry. 2009;166(12):1325-1330. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.08081235

  6. Lupi M, Martinotti G, Acciavatti T, et al. Pharmacological Treatments in Gambling Disorder: A Qualitative Review. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:537306. doi:10.1155/2014/537306

  7. Schuler A, Ferentzy P, Turner NE, et al. Gamblers Anonymous as a Recovery Pathway: A Scoping ReviewJ Gambl Stud. 2016;32(4):1261-1278. doi:10.1007/s10899-016-9596-8

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.