Gambling is a popular form of entertainment for many people, but for some, it can become a serious addiction. Gambling addiction, also known as gambling disorder, is a mental health condition that can have devastating effects on a person and their loved ones.

Join Sierra Vista Hospital as we explore everything you need to know about gambling addiction, including relevant statistics, how to recognize its signs and treatment options available.

Why Is Gambling Addictive?

Gambling addiction (also known as “problem gambling” or “gambling disorder”) is a complex behavioral health issue that can be caused by a combination of factors, including biological, psychological and social influences.

One of the main reasons why gambling is addictive is due to the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. When a person gambles, their brain releases dopamine, creating a feeling of excitement and pleasure. This can lead to a cycle of seeking out more gambling in order to experience that same dopamine rush. This over-reliance on gambling as a dopamine source can make it difficult for people to quit.

Additionally, gambling can also provide an escape from one’s reality and a way to cope with stress, anxiety or other negative emotions. Gambling therefore becomes a replacement for other healthier coping mechanisms, which can make quitting gambling more difficult.

Gambling Addiction Statistics

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, approximately 2.5 million adults in the United States meet the criteria for severe gambling addiction, while another 5 to 8 million meet the criteria for mild to moderate gambling addiction. This accounts for around 3% to 4% of the U.S. population.

In addition, recent studies reveal that for every person with a gambling addiction, 6 others are affected by their behavior. This can include family members, friends and coworkers who may experience financial, emotional and social consequences as a result of the person’s gambling addiction.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction can manifest in many ways and the signs may not always be apparent at first. However,  some common signs that may indicate a gambling problem include:

  • Preoccupation with gambling: Constantly thinking about gambling, planning the next gambling session or reliving past gambling experiences.
  • Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money: As tolerance builds, individuals may need to bet larger amounts of money to experience the same level of excitement.
  • Failed attempts to quit or cut back on gambling: Despite wanting to stop, individuals may find it difficult to control their gambling behavior.
  • Restlessness or irritability when trying to stop gambling: This can be a sign of withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop gambling.
  • Chasing losses: Trying to win back money lost through gambling by continuing to gamble.
  • Lying about gambling: Hiding the extent of gambling behavior from loved ones.
  • Jeopardizing relationships, job or education: Gambling may take priority over important responsibilities and relationships.
  • Borrowing money or selling possessions to gamble: This can be a sign of financial problems due to gambling.
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about gambling: This can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression.

If you or a loved one are experiencing these signs, it may be time to consider seeking professional gambling addiction help.

Gambling Addiction Treatment Options

The first step in treating any behavioral addiction is recognizing that there is a problem and seeking help. The same goes for gambling addiction. Treatment for gambling addiction may vary based on the person’s individual struggles and needs. Typically, however, it involves a combination of psychiatric treatment, medication and support groups.

Psychiatric treatment

Psychiatric treatment in a secure behavioral health facility can help individuals understand the underlying causes of their gambling addiction and develop coping strategies to manage triggers and cravings. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common approach used to treat gambling addiction. It focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to gambling. Dual diagnosis treatment is also another common treatment option, as gambling disorder may often co-occur with other mental or behavioral health issues.


In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of gambling addiction. This may be the case when gambling behavior is associated with other mental health challenges, such as mood disorders. In such cases, antidepressants and mood stabilizers are a common medication option that may alleviate the need for gambling.

Support Groups

Support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can provide an understanding and supportive environment for people to share their experiences and learn from those who have also struggled with gambling addiction. These groups provide numerous benefits, as they may help provide a sense of accountability and motivation to those on their recovery journey.

How to Stop a Gambling Addiction

As with any addiction, stopping a gambling disorder is not always an easy or straightforward process. Instead, it may be emotionally challenging and may take years of continued commitment and support. With that in mind, there are some common steps people can take to stop a gambling addiction.

Admit there is a problem

The first step in overcoming any addiction is acknowledging that there is a problem. This can be difficult, as it means admitting fault to one’s behavior. However, without this foundational step making long-term positive changes may be difficult.

Seek professional help

Seeking help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in treating gambling addiction can provide people with the tools and support they need to overcome their addiction. There are also behavioral health treatment programs and services that offer additional structure and support to those who need it to overcome their addiction.

Avoid triggers

Triggers vary from person to person. Learning how to identify them and avoid them may help prevent relapse. This may include avoiding places or situations where gambling is present, such as casinos or online gambling sites.

Find healthy coping mechanisms

As previously mentioned, sometimes gambling is used as an unhealthy coping mechanism to escape one’s reality. As a result, finding healthy ways to cope with stress and negative emotions can help people prevent gambling behaviors. This may include exercise, meditation or engaging in hobbies and activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Create a support system

Having a support system of friends and family who understand and support the recovery journey can be beneficial. It can also be beneficial to connect with others who have struggled with gambling addiction through support groups or online communities.

Help Is Available at Sierra Vista Hospital

Gambling addiction can make you feel like you’re lost in a never-ending cycle of darkness, but this does not have to be your reality.

Sierra Vista Hospital, located in Sacramento, California, is here for your mental and behavioral health needs. We provide inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services to adults and adolescents seeking improved mental well-being. Our individualized treatment plans aim to meet each person’s needs and challenges are met.

Learn more about how we can help by giving us a call at 916-273-4300 or get in contact with us by using this form.

About Sierra Vista Hospital

Sierra Vista Hospital is a private behavioral health facility that provides psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment through inpatient and outpatient programming. We also provide inpatient alcohol detox and outpatient chemical dependency services. With a team of licensed professionals committed to giving the highest quality care, we pride ourselves on having a compassionate and nurturing environment.

We offer care to adults and adolescents in the Sacramento area and also serve those through the northern and central California area. Some of our services include inpatient treatment for adults and adolescents and as well as our outpatient treatment for adults and adolescents. Our facility has been providing support for our patients and their families since 1986.

To schedule a no-cost assessment or for more information, please call 916-273-4300.