Is Gambling Addiction a Mental Illness? (and How to Know When It’s Time to Stop)

Women having migraine, distress due to gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is a progressive addiction that can cause many psychological, physical, and social consequences. It is classified as an impulse-control disorder and is included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM-5).

Problem gambling is hurtful to psychological and physical health. People who live with this addiction may experience psychological and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Depression
  • Migraine
  • Distress
  • Intestinal disorders
  • Anxiety-related problems

As with other addictions, the consequences of gambling can lead to feelings of despair and helplessness. Sometimes this can lead to attempts at suicide.

The rate of problem gambling has risen around the world in the past several years. In the United States, it is estimated that 1% of the adult population has a severe problem with gambling and that 6 to 9% of young people and young adults have problems related to gambling, according to the International Center for Responsible Gambling.

People who gamble compulsively often have substance abuse problems, personality disorders, depression, or anxiety. Because of the detrimental consequences, gambling addiction has become an important public health consideration in many countries.

Gambling addiction treatment is similar to treatment for other types of addictions. Gambling addiction therapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy and individual therapy, and depending on the severity of the addiction, inpatient or residential treatment may be recommended or outpatient or a partial hospitalization program may be more appropriate. People with gambling addiction are also assessed for dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorders, such as drug and alcohol addiction or bipolar disorder, which is commonly associated with gambling addiction.

Risk factors for gambling addiction

Even though most people who play cards or make bets never develop a gambling problem, there are certain factors that are more often associated with pathological gambling.

Mental health disorders

People who compulsively gamble often have substance use disorders (SUDs), personality disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention deficit disorder (ADD).


Gambling addiction is more common in younger and middle-aged people. And, like substance addiction, gambling during childhood or the teen years increases the risk of developing the addiction. Still, gambling among retired adults can also be a problem.


Gambling disorder is more common in men than women. Treatment for gambling addiction can be gender-specific.

Influence of family or friend

If you have family or friends with a gambling addiction, the chances are greater that you will, too.


Medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome are called dopamine agonists and may result in compulsive behaviors.

Personality characteristics

Being highly competitive, a workaholic, restless, impulsive, or easily bored may increase your risk.

Triggers that may lead to compulsive gambling

Gambling can lead to a variety of problems, but the addiction can happen to anyone. There is no way to predict who will develop an addiction to gambling. Gambling becomes a problem when it can’t be controlled and when it interferes with relationships, finances, and the workplace. Nevertheless, it may take some time before you realize you have a problem.

Many people who develop a gambling addiction are generally considered responsible and dependable, but there are factors that can lead to a change in behavior. These factors may include:

  • Retirement
  • Traumatic situation
  • Job-related stress
  • Emotional changes, such as depression or anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Presence of other addictions
  • Environmental factors, such as friends or available opportunities

Addiction tendencies

There have been studies that suggest that people with a tendency to one addiction may have a higher risk of developing another. Genetic, environmental, and neurological factors may also play a part.

Additionally, people who are affected by gambling may also have a problem with drugs or alcohol. This could possibly be due to a predisposition for addiction. And the use of some medications has been tied to a higher risk of gambling addiction.

Secondary addictions

Secondary addictions can also happen in an attempt to reduce the negative feelings caused by the gambling addiction. Therefore, it’s possible to develop a substance use disorder (SUD) while trying to relieve the guilt of the gambling disorder. However, some people who gamble never experience any secondary addiction.

Getting gambling addiction treatment in New Jersey

This is your time to come out of hiding from that gambling problem you’ve been trying to cover up. You can do yourself, your family, and your friends a favor by making that one step into recovery. You are not the only person to suffer from a gambling addiction.

At Lifetime Recovery, we can guarantee you that.

And we are one of the few facilities that has a dedicated treatment program for gambling addiction along with our accredited substance use disorder programs. We care about every client because many of us have been in your place.

This can be turned around and you can start today.

Treating mental health and trauma

Our behavioral health and substance abuse treatment experts also treat co-occurring disorders/dual diagnoses (including trauma), and we are one of the few alcohol and drug rehab centers offering gambling addiction treatment.