Gambling addiction

Did you know that gambling is one of the oldest activities in human history, with the first six-sided dice dating back to 3000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia? Gambling has been long misunderstood as either a fun pastime or a moral vice, but the consequences of gambling addiction are all too real. Here, we will be discussing how gambling addiction works, the signs to look out for and the range of treatment options available in the UK.

What is gambling addiction?

Gambling addiction, also known as gambling disorder and pathological gambling, is an impulse-control disorder defined by a compulsive desire to gamble despite the negative impact on your life and those closest to you. If you are struggling with compulsive gambling, you may feel as if you cannot control your gambling and that it is taking over your life.

Those addicted to gambling are classified as ‘problem gamblers’, differentiated from professional and social gamblers by their inability to stop gambling even when they cannot afford to continue. Therefore, gambling addiction is a mental health disorder that is classified as a behavioural addiction (or process addiction). Gambling addiction comes in many forms and can be facilitated by in-person and online gambling businesses.

In-person gambling

Gambling can take place in many locations, from betting shops to casinos and racing events. A few examples of in-person gambling include:

  • Lotteries
  • Bingo
  • Poker and card games
  • Casino table games (blackjack, roulette and craps)
  • Horse and sports betting
  • Electronic gaming machines (EGMs, also known as slot machines)

Online gambling

As technological advances have enabled many more businesses to function online, gambling businesses have adjusted their practices accordingly. Nowadays, all of the in-person types of gambling mentioned above can be accessed through websites and apps for electronic devices. This means that gambling can be accessed anywhere at any time, so it is no surprise that EGMs and internet gambling have been reported as the two most addictive forms of gambling.

How does gambling addiction develop?

The excitement of placing a bet or taking part in a game causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which stimulates the brain’s reward system. This is what causes the ‘thrill’ or ‘high’ when you win at gambling, and is a very common way in which gambling addiction develops. As your gambling becomes more frequent, your brain adjusts to receiving dopamine on a regular basis. Scientific studies have proven that your brain triggers this neurochemical reaction even when the bet is lost.

Typical signs and symptoms of gambling addiction

As forms of gambling such as casino games and racing can be a social activity, it can be easy to dismiss gambling as a harmless and fun pastime. However, failing to control your impulse to gamble can cause significant harm to yourself and your loved ones. If you are wondering whether you or a loved one is suffering from gambling addiction, you can ask yourself the following questions:

Gambling addiction in yourself

  • Am I often thinking about when I can next gamble, always calculating my odds?
  • Have I been spending an increasing amount of money on gambling in recent weeks or months, hoping to feel that same rush I felt when I first started?
  • Am I constantly chasing my losses in an attempt to break even or fund future bets?
  • Do I sometimes lie about how I’ve been spending my time to cover the fact that I have been gambling?
  • Have I committed, or considered committing, crimes to obtain more money when I have run out of gambling funds or have not received payment?

Gambling addiction in others

  • Have they recently asked to borrow money from you or others without providing any logical reason?
  • Do they often disappear after work, at night or during the weekends for long periods of time without explanation?
  • Have they become socially withdrawn and suddenly unable to fulfil their personal and financial commitments?
  • Are they spending many hours online and behaving secretively?
  • Have you noticed that their financial stability is constantly fluctuating?

Is gambling addiction dangerous?

Financial risks of gambling addiction

Achieving economic success through gambling is a false promise often perpetuated by unethical gambling businesses to encourage you to keep spending your money. No matter how long you have been gambling, long-term financial gain is never guaranteed.

If you gamble compulsively, you can quickly find yourself becoming trapped in a cycle of gambling: you place a bet, chase your losses, and then increase your next bet to cover it. Many people struggling with gambling addiction take out loans and fall into debt as a result of losing. This can have an immensely negative impact on your fiscal security, as well as those you have borrowed from or are financially dependent on you.

Personal risks of gambling addiction

Gambling addiction may not present the same physical symptoms as alcohol addiction or drug abuse, but it can be hugely detrimental to your mental health. When you lose a gamble, you may experience feelings of low self-esteem, shame or guilt for the harm your gambling is causing to yourself and others. These emotions can result in drug or alcohol abuse, creating co-existing addictions which worsen your mental wellbeing.

Research scientists have discovered that compulsive gamblers are more likely to commit gambling-related crimes such as theft, fraud or embezzlement. Committing these criminal acts can seriously jeopardise your financial security and even your life.

How common is gambling addiction in the UK?

Recent statistics published by GambleAware have shown that around 1.4 million people in Britain are currently experiencing gambling harms.

One contributing factor to the high rate of gambling addiction in Britain is the ever-growing gambling market. Public Health England released data collected by the Gambling Commission revealing that the UK gambling market generated a £14.2 billion profit in 2020, making it one of the largest gambling markets in the world.

Is gambling addiction treatment available in the UK?

Thankfully, there are various gambling addiction therapy options available around the UK. Should you decide to receive treatment at a private residential rehab centre such as the eight UKAT facilities around England, you will embark on a rehab programme of psychological and holistic therapies.

Our gambling addiction treatment programmes treat this mental health disorder with a combination of individual therapies like Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and group sessions during Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you learn how to manage your impulse to gamble. For those who are ready to begin their recovery journey, inpatient rehab offers the opportunity to bond with other clients who are also recovering from gambling addiction.

Additional options for gambling addiction help

A selection of local support groups and gambling awareness charities in the UK work to help vulnerable people in need of outpatient treatment. In early 2022, the NHS announced that it will be launching two new gambling addiction clinics in Southampton and Stoke-On-Trent. There are five other gambling addiction clinics run by the NHS in London, Manchester, Sunderland and Leeds, as well as the NHS Northern Gambling Service.

The primary national support group for gambling addiction is Gamblers Anonymous UK, which hosts group sessions around Britain allowing you to speak freely about your struggles.

How to prevent gambling addiction relapse

One of the hardest aspects of recovering from gambling addiction is finding the best way to re-establish your fiscal security so that you no longer fall into the cycle of gambling your way out of debt. It may be a good idea to talk to a financial advisor or National Debtline about any concerns you have regarding your personal finances.

In 2021, The Forward Trust published the findings of a YouGov survey which discovered that the COVID-19 pandemic saw a 37% relapse rate in people who are struggling with addictive behaviour. It is always important to remember that rehab cannot cure gambling addiction, but is a brilliant way to begin your recovery. Following treatment, we would advise you to participate in our Alumni programme following treatment to maintain the support network gained during your stay in rehab. The UKAT family support programme provides your family and friends with insight into rehab and how they can assist you in your ongoing recovery.

Call us now for help


Frequently Asked Questions

Is gambling a mental health issue?
Gambling addiction is a behavioural addiction, which is a mental health disorder.
How do I stop gambling?
Reaching out to a loved one, GP or support group to pursue help for your struggle is the first step you can take to stopping your gambling addiction.
What are the signs of gambling addiction?
Feeling as if gambling is consuming your life, increasing your bets beyond what you can afford, being unable to stop yourself from gambling, withdrawing loans to continue gambling and accumulating overwhelming sums of debt, are all common signs of gambling addiction.
What is the best treatment for gambling addiction?
Psychoanalytic therapies including DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are often effective treatments for gambling addiction. Discussing your struggle with a therapist can provide insight into the underlying mental health issues that have developed into gambling addiction.

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