Gambling Problems

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Blackjack. Slots. Sports betting. It doesn’t matter what game you’re playing. If you need support, we’re here for you, 24/7.  Reach out to our team of trained experts with any gambling-related questions. All calls and messages are free and confidential. 

GamLine: 1-800-GAM-1234
National Helpline: 1-800-GAMBLER
LiveChat: See the bottom right-hand corner of your screen.

What’s a gambling problem?

Gambling becomes a problem when it negatively impacts any area of your life. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve lost or won. 

Someone with a gambling problem – with the most severe situations known as gambling disorder or gambling addiction — becomes more preoccupied with gambling over time.

Like any addiction, a gambling disorder causes disruptions to your well-being, job, and relationships. 

If this sounds like you or someone you know, you’re not alone. Two million U.S. adults (1% of population) and over 139,600 individuals (2%) in Massachusetts have gambling problems. Another 4-6 million people (2-3%) demonstrate behaviors that put them at risk.

How do I know I have a problem?

Problem gambling can be tough to spot and easy to hide. Common signs include:

How do people resist the urge to gamble?

Someone who stops gambling may likely experience urges to gamble again.

Urges can range from mild or very strong to the point of physical discomfort. Some people feel unfocused, sweat, or feel like their heart is racing.

Certain visuals can spur these feelings. When you’re stressed, gambling might feel like a needed relief. Other times, urges happen for no specific reason.

Several strategies, like urge surfing, can reduce thoughts and cravings.

Some helpful ways to manage urges:

Where can I find community?

In-person and virtual meetings can offer guidance and support. Some are for individuals struggling with problem gambling. Other support groups are for loved ones. Many groups also offer various resources.

Where can I find treatment?

A gambling problem or disorder is treatable. In fact, many clinicians receive in-depth training on how to diagnose, screen, and treat problem gambling through MACGH.

Frequently Asked Questions

Think of a car. The brain’s reward hub is like a gas pedal. The brain’s top-down control network is a brake.

People with addiction — substance use or behavioral (video gaming or gambling) — have inconsistencies with the gas pedal and brakes. These individuals have less activity in their reward hub, which can push the gas pedal to extremes. Over time, this can tax the brakes.

Learn more about this extended metaphor and the brain’s cognitive process at Brain Connections.

This goes back to the reward hub (gas pedal) and the top-down control network (the brakes).

When the gas pedal gets pressed too much, three things happen:

  • You begin to associate gambling stimuli with a reward.
  • This association causes strong urges to gamble — changing your behavior from “liking” to “wanting.”
  • Overengaging in pleasure causes brain activity to shift from the reward hub to the habit hub.

All make gambling less exciting, but difficult to stop. Read about these changes at Brain Connections.

Yes! All of us have setpoints. These are natural mood states that slightly change from day to day.

At first, gambling can engage the reward hub and increase pleasure. However, when you gamble more, your setpoint can drop. Over time, problem gambling forces this setpoint lower and lower. Someone’s emotional state might be so down that they might experience depression even when not gambling.

Learn more about gambling effects on mood at Brain Connections.

We’re here for you, too.

You’re welcome to connect with our team 24/7 by calling the GamLine at 1-800-GAM-1234 or 1-800-GAMBLER. You can also message us via LiveChat at Calls and messages are free and confidential.

Gamblers Anonymous and SMART Recovery also offer support groups for family, friends, and loved ones.

Anyone can develop a problem with gambling.

Males and those who were exposed to or gambled as children are especially at-risk for a gambling disorder.

There are also connections between alcohol and drug dependence and problem gambling. Those with mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are susceptible.

For sports betting, younger players, those in recovery for substance use, and lesser experienced players are at higher risk.

Learn more about risk factors among certain populations in our Fact Sheets.

Yes. Wagering on sports isn’t about in-depth knowledge of players, teams, or leagues.

Like table games or lottery tickets, sports betting also involves factors not in your control.

Psychologically, sports bettors perceive they have more control in determining outcomes. In reality, this overestimates the probability of winning.

Yes. 60-80% of teens have gambled in the past year.

Youth gambling takes many forms. It could be students betting on shots during pickup basketball. Or friends who place wagers on sports scores or strike up Saturday night poker tournaments. An increasing amount of youth gambling happens on mobile apps or video games.

Gambling at a young age spikes dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex, which has not fully developed. For this reason, early exposure significantly increases an individual’s likelihood to develop a gambling problem.

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