Pathological Gambling: A Growing Problem

Friday-night poker games, the stock market, horse races, casinos, bingo, lottery tickets, football pools, fantasy football, online betting, sports betting, Pathological gambling is a growing problem in the United States, even though it has taken a back seat to the opiate abuse epidemic, a report by the National Council on Problem Gambling shows that approximately one in five pathological gamblers will attempt suicide during their addiction.  The council said that this 20% suicide rate is higher than any other addictive disorder; those pathological gamblers who also suffer from substance abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness are at an even greater risk for suicide.  If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, there is help!  The suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255.

“The only man who makes money following the races is one who does it with a broom and shovel” – Elbert Hubbard

Every year, 2% -3%, approximately two-million American adults are estimated to meet the criteria for disordered gambling, while another 4-6 million individuals are problem gamblers at risk for serious addiction consequences.  Men make up two-thirds majority of Problem Gamblers. Pathological gambling also impacts older adults and teenagers. Teenagers are 3 to 4 times more likely to become problem gamblers than adults.  90% of High School students have gambled at least once in the last year.  In the USA ages 14-21, 2.1% struggle with Problem Gambling, another 6.5% are at risk. Older Americans are at great risk of developing gambling problems for several reasons:

 They don’t get screened for gambling problems.

Older adults are less likely to ask for help for gambling problems.

Many older adults have easy access to gambling and like being around other people.

Some older adults have cognitive impairments.

Many older adults face life transitions that make them more vulnerable to gambling.

Many older adults hide their gambling because of stigma.

Older adults can’t recoup large losses.

 Problem gambling, or ludomania, is an urge to continuously gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. Problem gambling often is defined by whether harm is experienced by the gambler or others, rather than by the gambler\'s behavior. Severe problem gambling may be diagnosed as clinical pathological gambling if the gambler meets certain criteria. Pathological gambling is a common disorder that is associated with both social and family costs.  “Pathological gambling” is the most severe form of problem gambling and has been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a disease since 1980. 

Some individuals gamble as a way of attempting to manage anxiety, as they gamble it separates some people from their anxious feelings and relaxes them.  Unfortunately, in most case, it also separates them from all of their money!

The stages of problem gambling are progressive just like substance abuse and alcoholism.  There are five different levels of gamblers:

The Non-Gambler: A person who has never gambled.

The Casual or Social Gambler: A person who gambles for entertainment periodically.

The at-Risk Gambler: The individual who gambles often.

The Problem Gambler: The individual who is already having gambling problems.

The Pathological Gambler: This individual suffers from the disease of addiction that seriously harms all areas of their life.

Pathological gambling is the most severe form of problem gambling and has been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a disease since 1980.  Gaming or gambling is supposed to be for fun, for entertainment.  According to evidence from both community- and clinic-based studies, individuals who have pathological gambling are highly likely to exhibit other psychiatric problems at the same time, including substance use disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, or personality disorders.  These problems take many forms and sizes. For example, problems range in severity from falling behind on the bills to gamblers committing suicide. The gambler may be suffering psychologically, from anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, fear, domestic violence, etc.  Problem gambling often leads to physical and mental health issues, as well as spiritual ones.  Relationships at home and in the workplace can be destroyed or damaged.

“The safest way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it in your pocket.” – Kin Hubbard

Problem Gambler’s Behaviors:

Persistent obsession or preoccupation with any type of gambling.

Carries large bankroll of money for gambling, but won’t spend on needed things.

Avoiding work, social obligations, or other commitments in order to gamble.

Neglecting bills or other expenses in order to use the money for gambling.

Loss of relationships or friendships due to gambling.

Loss of house, job, car, or other personal possessions due to financial losses in gambling.

Stealing in order to gamble.

Being secretive about their gambling.

Lying in order to gamble.

Failed attempts to control or eliminate behavior.

Not taking proper care of hygiene afraid to miss the big hand or pay out!

Warning Signs:

Gambling to escape boredom, chasing gambling activities not pursuing hobbies, jobs, and relationships.

Gambling to avoid stress and problems, avoiding people.

Gambling affects the person’s personality and their goals, all they think about is the action.

People notice the change in you especially children.


“There is an easy way to return from the casino with a small fortune: go there with a large one.” – Jack Yelton


The Consequences:

Loss of Money, possessions, and property while accumulating debt.

Losing the Trust of close friends and family.

Reputation suffers at work and in the community.

Health: lack of sleep, high blood pressure, anxiety, etc.

Possible legal troubles.

There are several different treatment approaches and theories for problem gamblers:

Treatment Approaches and Theory

Peer Support

Self Help

Step-Based Programs

Motivational Interviewing

Solution Focused Brief Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Professional Gambling Addiction Coaching

Professional Gambling Addiction Coaches utilize specialized skill sets, tools, and core competencies to help problem gamblers reach solution.  These highly trained and skilled Professional Coaches will help their clients with successful action planning, recovery activities, understanding warning signals and consequences, rewards and risks, substitute behaviors, problem thinking, treatment approaches, and all that is needed to reach solution in recovery. 

Professional Gambling Addiction Coaches can meet with clients in person, on the web, or by phone.  Sessions can be set up by the hour, by the day, by the week, or month.  Some coaches are available on a live-in basis to help clients get through tough periods of time, or for certain events. Professional Gambling Addiction Coaches are a great option for those who want to protect their confidentiality, who don’t want to go away to residential recovery programs, and who can’t afford to take time away from their jobs.

If you or someone you know is having trouble with gambling, seek out help today.  There is plenty of help available to you. If it seems like a problem today and you ignore it, it will get worse; you can bet on it!

© 2015

Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin PhD.



American Psychiatric Association.

DSM-5: The Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis

. 2010; Accessed

August 31, 2012.

National Research Council.

Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review.

Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press;


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