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  • Writer's pictureKim May

Is my gambling a problem?

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

So, you gamble. You like it, it’s fun. You have some winnings under your belt. But maybe your losses have begun to stack up. The type of gambling does not matter. It could be blackjack in a casino, lottery tickets, Pai Gow, online gaming, the stock market, sports betting, or shooting dice in your driveway.

It seems there are endless ways to gamble and according to The American Gaming Association (AGA), the gambling industry in the US is worth $261 billion. Only two US states do not permit gambling of any kind, Utah, and Hawaii.

So, with all these gambling options, and an increasing amount of legal gambling options, how are we to know when our gambling has become problematic?

Risk level and gambling

Just because someone gambles does not mean their behavior is problematic. People gamble to socialize, for the excitement of possibly winning, or simply because they enjoy it. And when people keep their gambling low risk, it is easier to continue to enjoy it.

Low-risk gambling:

· Do not use gambling as an emotional escape

· Avoid trying to “win back” losses, but rather accept losses as a part of gambling

· Engage in enjoyable activities other than gambling

· Have limits on the time and money spent on gambling

· Avoid gambling when impaired by drugs and alcohol

· Don’t use gambling to earn income/pay debt

· Never borrow, or use investments/savings to gamble; only gamble what you can afford to lose

· Your gambling does not negatively impact your job, health, finances, or your family

Conversely, many people in engage in high risk or harmful gambling. However, like substance use, gambling also occurs on a continuum. It is possible to have some traits of both a low and high-risk gambler. It is also not necessary to meet the full criteria for Gambling Disorder for your gambling to be having a negative impact on your life.

High risk, or harmful, gambling:

· Often experience depression or anger after gambling

· Lie and/or have conflicts with friends/family about gambling

· Chase your losses

· Lose track of time and play for longer than you intended to; ignore other responsibilities

· Spend more money that you meant, or that you can afford

· Believe that in the end, gambling will pay off

· See gambling as the most important thing in your life

Problem Gambling

Once gambling has become a problem, it can often impact numerous areas of our lives and negatively influence our wellbeing. Gambling can affect us financially, emotionally, behaviorally, and even physically. For some people, gambling problems gradually emerge over many years, for others they develop suddenly. Not everyone will be impacted in the same way, but below are some common ways people are affected by problem gambling.

Financial signs of problem gambling:

· Vacillates between flashing money and being broke

· Cashing in retirement accounts and investments

· Asks for salary advances, secures loans or borrows money

· Stealing to maintain gambling

Behavioral signs of problem gambling:

· Has conflicts with others about money

· Misses family/social/professional events

· Stops engaging in other activities that were once enjoyable

· Changes to sleep, eating, and/or sex

· Ignores self-care and responsibilities to others (including children)

· Increase in substance use

· Less willing to spend money on things other than gambling, even necessities

Emotional signs of problem gambling:

· Depression or suicidal ideation

· Mood swings, often accompanied by anger

· Distant, difficulty paying attention

· Experiences feelings of boredom and restlessness

· Disconnected from friends and family

Stress related health problems:

· Change in eating (loss of appetite or overeating)

· Headaches

· Problem sleeping

· Stomach and bowel problems

· Increase in anxiety

Help for gambling

If you decide you want support for your gambling, help is available. Whether you want to explore your gambling, reduce your risk and harm or work toward stopping, counseling at Substance Use Therapy is here for you. Whatever you are facing, you don’t have to face it alone.

If counseling is not the right for you currently, other resources are available.

· National Problem Gambling Helpline: 1-800-522-4700 or

Apps designed to block online gaming


About the Author:

Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.

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