Recognising the Red Flags of Gambling Addiction


Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something of value, such as money or possessions, in the hope of winning something of equal or greater value. While gambling can be a fun and social activity for some people, it is also associated with negative outcomes such as financial problems and addiction. The risk of gambling addiction is higher among individuals with underlying mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.

There are many ways to gamble, from online casinos and race tracks to arcade games and lottery tickets. Some of these activities involve skill, which can improve a player’s ability to make decisions, count cards, remember numbers, and read body language. Skill-based games can also help players work on their personal skills by teaching them how to devise and employ strategies. However, the main reason that people gamble is for the dopamine rush that comes with winning.

A problem with gambling can impact on a person’s relationships and their quality of life. It can cause family conflict, financial difficulties and debt, and lead to a lack of motivation to participate in other healthy activities. It can also impact on a person’s career, as they may struggle to focus on their work when they are gambling or trying to pay off their debts. People with a gambling problem often become isolated and lose friends. They may also ask others to borrow money, which can become a vicious cycle where the person borrows more and more from their family and friends until they are trapped in patterns of behaviour that they cannot break.

If you know someone who has a problem with gambling, it is important to recognise the red flags of addiction. Recognising these can help you support them to change their gambling habits, or get professional advice before the situation gets out of control. These include:

You might also notice that your friend or relative is always looking for a way to relieve boredom or unpleasant feelings, such as loneliness or stress. Encourage them to try healthier and more effective ways to manage their moods, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up a new hobby, or practising relaxation techniques.

A large contemporary cohort study (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) was used to explore the antecedents of gambling involvement in a nationally representative sample aged 17 years at baseline, 20 years at follow-up, and 24 years at follow-up. Participants completed self-report surveys. Those who reported having participated in the major forms of gambling at least monthly or more often were considered to be ‘regular’ gamblers. This is a more fine-grained measure of gambling participation than past-year participation and was associated with a greater likelihood of PG at all three time points (supplementary table 1). Regular gamblers were more likely to be male, have hyperactivity or conduct problems, have lower sensation seeking scores, smoke and drink alcohol weekly, be unemployed or not in education, have lower educational qualifications, and live with parents who gambled regularly at age 6.