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8 signs you're a gambling addict

Millions of Americans have a gambling problem. Whether you're buying lottery tickets or making stock market bets, here's how to take control of the problem.

By Stacy Johnson Jan 24, 2013 6:51PM

This post comes from Jeffrey Trull at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoFor most, gambling is a few hours of fun at the slots, a weekly card game with friends or the occasional flyer in the stock market. But for some, there's a dark side: addiction tha can lead to personal and financial ruin.


The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that 1% of the U.S. adult population, or 2 million people, meets the criteria for pathological gambling. An additional 4 million to 6 million Americans are "problem gamblers" who display some of the symptoms pathological gamblers do. Potential problems from gambling go beyond financial. Untreated, addiction can lead to legal problems, family and relationship issues, job loss and an increased risk of suicide.

Here are eight signs that you have a gambling problem:


1. You can't stop.

Just as an experienced poker player knows when to "hold 'em or fold 'em," those who gamble for fun limit themselves and their bets. Compulsive gamblers struggle with both the time and money they're spending. Betting takes over their lives, and they find themselves constantly wagering. They try to quit, but can't.


Image: Gambling (© Corbis)2. You gamble with money you can't afford to lose.

Problem gamblers don't stop with "fun money" set aside for betting. They use money budgeted for bills, savings or their kids' education. Sometimes they squander not just their last penny, but borrowed money as well.


A psychologist we interviewed said one of his patients had borrowed money from sources so unsavory that he'd put his family's safety at risk.


3. Your bets go beyond entertainment.

Recreational gamblers play for fun and spend a few dollars to have a good time. Gambling addicts place bets for reasons other than entertainment, often trying to escape anxiety or other problems. 


4. You attempt to recover losses by gambling more.

Have you repeatedly tried to get back money you've lost gambling by betting more? Problem gamblers may see more betting as the solution to financial loses rather than what it is -- throwing good money after bad.


5. You gamble with more and more money.

Like many addictions, pathological gambling can start small. But problem gamblers won't be content keeping the stakes low or setting limits. They need to bet more and more to experience the rush.


6. You go to extremes to find money to gamble.

Pathological gamblers don't stop gambling when their bank account runs dry. Instead they go to extremes to find more money. While this may stop with borrowing, some problem gamblers resort to theft, forgery or other crimes to feed their habit.


7. You put gambling before more important things.

Problem gamblers allow their habit to take priority over other parts of their lives. A gambling addict might skip watching her child's soccer game or miss time at work to hit the casino. Careers are put on the back burner and relationships deteriorate at the expense their habit.


8. Gambling negatively affects your emotions.

While gambling can be an exhilarating experience, addicts might experience emotions signaling a problem, including:

  • Frustration or irritation when they've tried to quit and failed.
  • Feelings of remorse.
  • A decrease in ambition.
  • An urge to celebrate an unrelated event by gambling.

In addition to these warning signs, you can take a test on compulsive gambling on the Gamblers Anonymous website.


If you believe you're addicted, there are steps you can take to help you quit. Taking early action is the key to salvaging your job, relationships and bank account.

  • Admit you have a problem. Gambling is like any addiction: The first step is to admit you have a problem. Experts say treatment won't be effective if the addict can't take this important first step. Admitting to the problem means you're ready to make an effort to stop.
  • Get support. Gambling addictions are hard to fight alone. Family and friends can be good sources of support, and Gamblers Anonymous can help recovering addicts share their experiences and find encouragement.
  • Avoid temptation. Addicts have to avoid environments that lead to gambling. Stay away from casinos, race tracks, poker games or anything else that might remind or tempt you. Cut bad influences out of your life. Take away sources for financing for your habit by giving control of your money to your spouse or someone else. If you're using credit cards to fund your habit, cut them up and close the accounts.
  • Replace gambling with something positive. Find a replacement activity or hobby. Whether it's jogging, rock climbing or fly fishing, find something to take the place of gambling.
  • Seek professional help. The intensity of treatment for gambling addiction varies case by case. Up to 70% of those with a gambling addiction may have other psychiatric conditions, making additional treatment necessary, says Psychotherapy may be a part of treatment, and medications are sometimes prescribed that help reduce the urge to wager. Certified gambling counseling  is available through the National Counsel on Problem Gambling,  something often recommended in addition to Gamblers Anonymous and family support.

Bottom line? Gambling comes in many forms, from a $2 lottery ticket to a $200,000 stock market bet. While there's nothing wrong with the occasional wager, when it starts negatively impacting your life, you should take control of the problem before it takes control of you.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Jul 29, 2014 8:50AM
I used to gamble too. However, I managed to overcome it with free software. I mean that sites like (it presents free slot machines software) help to safe money and overcome addiction. We play for free and forget about real gambling.
Sep 7, 2013 8:12AM
There's an app that claims to help with gambling addiction

Jan 24, 2013 7:54PM

 Yeh, even this is healthier than a night at the Indian casino...


Jan 24, 2013 8:18PM

What the story fails to mention is that anyone who gambles, whether they are casual, hard-core or professional, has an area of expertise or preferred style of gambling.  The tell-tale sign that someone has a gambling problem or, at the very least, a problem putting scores in the score column, is when they move away from what they know and go into styles of gambling they know little or nothing about.  The thought process behind such a course of action is that they are shaking up their gameplan, and need to shake up their gameplan, because sticking with what they know isn't putting scores in the score column.  Once you get away from what you know, you will increase your losses exponentially because the urge to chase in order to recoup takes over.


I have two rules when it comes to gambling.  First, the formula for scores in the score column is one part consternation, four parts bulldog determination.  You make your own luck.  If you play horses, you do your homework on the horses before going to the window.  If you play slots, you grind out spins on the machine until it pops for you.  You stay with what you know and fight harder.  The other, and most important:  I only care about one win on one day, today.  Why?  Because today is the only day I can do anything about; yesterday does not matter, nor does last week or last month.

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