Online Gambling Addiction: A Guide To Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 14, 2021

Online gambling and betting has become increasingly popular. Unfortunately, for some people, this can become a compulsive and costly problem. On this page is a guide to online gambling addiction and a list of supportive resources.

Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 14, 2021
Online Gambling Addiction

For decades, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports there has been huge growth in commercial gambling, in part due to the emergence of online gambling.

Unfortunately, what can be a fun pastime for some can for others become an addictive habit that can have serious financial costs and affect health, relationships, and other facets of daily life.

Gambling disorder, also known as gambling addiction, is a behavioral addiction that affects anywhere from 0.1percent to 6 percent of the adult population.

This disorder frequently co-occurs with other types of addictions, including alcohol addiction and drug addiction.

What Is An Online Gambling Addiction?

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized gambling addiction as a mental health disorder—now formally known as gambling disorder.

How people can gamble:

  • mobile gambling
  • online gambling and betting
  • gambling in casinos
  • sports betting

Gambling disorder, which includes an addiction to online gambling, refers to a pattern of compulsive gambling.

People with this disorder may feel unable to stop or control their gambling, despite negative consequences to finances, relationships, or way of life.

When Does Gambling Become An Addiction?

One of the hallmark signs of addiction is continuing to do something—whether it’s drinking, using drugs, or gambling—despite its negative effects on one’s life.

This is a sign of compulsive gambling. People who compulsively gamble may be aware of the negative impact of their gambling, yet will feel unable to control it.

Gambling activity, like drugs and alcohol, is believed to affect the brain in certain ways that can reinforce continued gambling—which can lead to a sort of psychological addiction.

Specific Risks Of Online Gambling Addiction

With the rise of mobile technologies, online gambling has become a bigger concern, not only due to the global financial losses of online gambling but also due to the risk of addiction.

Compared to land-based gambling, online gambling:

  • is more easily accessible
  • is generally anonymous
  • doesn’t always require spending money upfront
  • can allow for false birth dates entered by youth
  • surpasses travel and mobility restrictions
  • allows for 24-hour access to gambling
  • enables the rapid placement of bets

Research on internet gambling shows that some people find it more addictive and find it easier to spend more money online compared to gambling in person.

Being able to gamble from the comfort of one’s own home also makes it more difficult to escape from it, because the pull of it is always there—just a click away.

Signs Of An Online Gambling Addiction

Millions of people in the United States gamble, including teens and young adults. Not all gambling activity necessarily leads to addiction.

Signs of an online gambling addiction might include:

  • constant preoccupation with gambling or finding money to gamble
  • hiding or lying about one’s gambling activity
  • increasing how much you gamble over time
  • getting a ‘buzz’ or ‘high’ from gambling online
  • gambling in order to manage stress, nerves, or loneliness
  • continuing to gamble despite suffering financial losses (i.e. ‘chasing’ one’s losses)
  • trying to cut down on how much you gamble, or stop gambling, without success
  • feeling very irritable or restless if you try to reduce your gambling
  • losing a job, educational opportunity, or significant relationship as a result of your gambling

An online gambling addiction can cause radical changes in mood and behavior. People who develop a gambling disorder may lie, steal, or even commit fraud—all in order to maintain their gambling habits.

Loved ones of those with an online gambling addiction may feel distraught, angry, and helpless. This is normal. It’s also normal for individuals addicted to gambling to feel this way.

Like with drugs or alcohol, gambling can become a sort of coping mechanism, to deal with stress, loneliness, or to fill an empty space left by an ended relationship, job, or activity.

Who’s At Risk?

No one is immune from developing an addiction, be it to drugs, alcohol, or online gambling. Even so, there are several factors that can put a person at an increased risk.

Risk factors for developing an online gambling addiction include:

  • being male
  • loneliness
  • history of substance abuse
  • having a mental health disorder
  • lack of social support
  • having friends or family who gamble
  • having a highly competitive personality
  • family history of addiction

Young adults, such as college students, and people who are middle-aged are also considered at higher risk for gambling addiction, according to some research.

What Are The Dangers Of An Online Gambling Addiction?

Compulsive gambling isn’t harmless. It can have real financial costs, as well as lead to legal problems, social problems, and potentially lead people to neglect their own health.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), people with gambling disorder are at an increased risk for suicide.

Addiction can also affect a person’s ability to work, go to school, and maintain healthy relationships.

This may lead to job loss, troubles at work, poor academic performance, and increased isolation—all of which can contribute to issues such as depression and anxiety.

Is Online Gambling Illegal?

On a federal level, online gambling is not illegal in the United States. However, laws on gambling do vary by state.

Online gambling was effectively decriminalized in 2011 through a decision made by the U.S. Department of Justice, allowing each state to determine their own laws for regulation.

Utah and Hawaii are the only two states in the U.S. where all forms of online gambling are illegal, although the enforcement of these bans is not always very strong or easy.

Online Gambling Addiction And Substance Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse is common among people with gambling disorders. Both substance use disorders and gambling disorder share common risk factors.

For instance, they both often run in families. In addition, it’s common for people with one or both disorders to also have a mental health or personality disorder.

Common co-occurring disorders include:

Gambling addiction is believed to resemble drug and alcohol addiction the most of any other type of behavioral addiction.

Like substances, people often report craving their gambling activities and even experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, such as agitation and high anxiety, should they try to stop.

Online Gambling Addiction Rates And Information

Online gambling addiction is a relatively new and ongoing area of research, but there is some information we do know about it.

Statistics and information about online gambling addiction:

  • Teenagers and young adults have higher rates of gambling problems compared to other adult age groups.
  • Of people in the United States with a gambling disorder, up to 73 percent of a large sample of adults reported having an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lifetime.
  • Up to 96 percent of people with compulsive gambling issues meet the criteria for another psychiatric condition, such as a mental health or substance use disorder.
  • An estimated three to 14 percent of college students who gamble are estimated to develop a serious problem.
  • An estimated 56,000 active duty military members are believed to have a gambling problem.
  • Veterans with a gambling problem are at high risk for attempting suicide, and often have a history of physical trauma, sexual trauma, or emotional trauma.
  • About two-thirds of people who gamble on the internet regularly do so pathologically—that is, demonstrate signs of a gambling disorder.

Treatment For Online Gambling Addiction

Overcoming an addiction to online gambling is possible. Although some people can overcome a gambling addiction without help, this isn’t true for everyone.

Most people who develop addictions need professional help to conquer an addiction for good. This is especially true for people who have co-occurring substance use or mental health disorders.

Treatment for online gambling addiction may involve:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • motivational interviewing
  • group therapy
  • family or couples counseling
  • self-help groups
  • medication

For co-occurring gambling disorder and substance abuse, a higher level of care—such as an inpatient rehab or detox program—may also be recommended.

Resources For Overcoming An Online Gambling Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with an online gambling problem, here is a list of resources for recovery support and treatment.

Association of Professionals Treating Problem Gambling (APTPG)

This is an organization that offers a range of informational resources on various gambling-related topics, and hosts workshops for treatment professionals who treat compulsive gambling.

Their informational resources may help loved ones and individuals affected by problem gambling better understand the issue and its impact in certain populations.

Helpful resources include:

Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, also known as 800-Gambler, offers a 24/7 confidential hotline for people who have a gambling problem.

Helpful resources include:

Gambling Anonymous

Gambling Anonymous is a fellowship similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but for people with a gambling problem.

The fellowship offers anonymous meetings for individuals struggling with a gambling problem, as well as support groups for friends and family.

Helpful resources include:

GamTalk

GamTalk is an online community that offers support for individuals and loved ones affected by compulsive gambling.

Helpful resources include:

National Council on Compulsive Gambling

The National Council on Compulsive Gambling is a national organization that offers supportive resources for individuals and families affected by compulsive gambling.

In addition to offering general resources on a national level, there are state affiliates of the NCCG in most states across the country.

Helpful resources include:

Prevention Lane

Prevention Lane is a Problem Gambling Prevention Program based in Lane County, Oregon. For those who are not local to Lane County, the program offers a range of educational resources online.

Helpful resources include:

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency of the federal government. It is a leading national resource for people affected by addiction.

This agency recognizes that gambling addiction and substance misuse often co-occur.

Through their resources, individuals and families can find more information about addiction and treatment.

Helpful resources include:

In collaboration with the National Council on Problem Gambling, SAMHSA also helped create a Problem Gambling Toolkit.

Tips For Loved Ones Affected By Online Gambling Addiction

Having a loved one with a gambling disorder can be distressing. You may find yourself feeling sad, angry, hopeless, or confused about what to do.

What you can do:

  • Take time to care for your own mental health
  • Seek support from others who have gone through similar experiences
  • Understand that recovery from addiction can take time
  • Emphasize that you come from a place of love when bringing up concerns about your loved one’s gambling activity
  • Recognize the positive qualities of your loved one—beyond their addiction
  • Set healthy boundaries emotionally and financially

What not to do:

  • Put pressure on yourself to “fix” your loved one
  • Allow yourself to feel like a failure if they relapse
  • Enable their gambling or substance use habits
  • Minimize the distress of your loved one through the treatment process
  • Give up on the possibility of your loved one’s recovery

Moving beyond a gambling addiction—be it your own or that of a loved one—is possible. But it will take time and compassion. Recovery is a lifelong journey, not a sprint.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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