Recognizing The Symptoms of Problem Gambling

The fine line of Gambling and Problem Gambling 

Problem gambling is when the punter crosses the fine line of gambling for entertainment into excessive gambling. It’s tricky because gambling in itself presents the illusion of easy money, but it can quickly escalate to financial ruin. Truth is the odds are never truly in your favor whether it is poker, blackjack or slots. Gambling thrives as a successful industry because the house is stacked to win.

Gambling is not restricted to slot machines, cards and casinos. The impulse of a bet is inherent in buying a lottery ticket, entering a raffle or making a bet with a friend. Making a bet is in essence gambling. How much a punter bets and how often a punter bets can vary, but the main ingredient in addiction lies within the impulse becoming compulsive. It’s not always obvious when a punter has become compulsive and addicted to gambling since problem gambling shares similarities with other addictive disorders. 


There are no physical changes that clearly indicate a gambling problem. Rather it’s when their thinking becomes distorted by the thrill of the game. It’s the moment when a punter doesn’t know when to stop playing. Gambling addiction is also when a punter thinks that the only solution to their money troubles is by gambling. They then gamble what little money they have in an attempt to get an even larger sum of money.  

Problem gambling almost always becomes a vicious cycle. The cyclic pattern of the punter thinking they can win back their losses rarely happens. This striving to come up, but never arriving or breaking even, and the inability to stop themselves from digging an even deeper hole is self-destructive. The pattern continues until the punter hits rock bottom, this breaking point forces them to seek rehabilitation. 


There’s an inherent rush in the risk of gambling. A gambling addiction can incur from a punter making risky bets to experience the emotional thrill that comes from taking huge risks. Many aspects contribute to a gambling addiction such as financial distress. The experience of the thrills and highs that come with gambling become addictive. And the winning status of being a pro gambler as well as, the allure of the gambling industry is a glamour, a hopeful mirage in a desert of loss.

To break the problem gambling cyclic pattern is truly most difficult when a gambling addiction has already taken ahold of the punter. To understand the behavioral, emotional, financial and health warning signs of problem gambling is indeed proactive in nipping it in the butt. By knowing these symptoms, punters can better monitor their gambling habits. Thereby avoiding the potential hazard of problem gambling.


The most common behavioral symptoms of problem gambling include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Feeling like you have to be secretive about gambling
  • Having trouble controlling your gambling habits
  • Gambling when you cannot afford to
  • Others have expressed concern about your gambling
  • Stops doing things he or she previously did and enjoyed
  • repeatedly misses events
  • experiences a change in the patterns of sleep, eating or sex
  • ignores self-care, work, school, friends and family tasks
  • experiences conflicts over money with other people
  • abuses alcohol or other drugs more frequently
  • leaves children alone and neglects their basic care
  • constantly thinks about gambling all the time
  • is less willing to spend on things other than gambling
  • cheats or steals to get the money to gamble or pay debts
  • has legal problems related to gambling
  • is often late to work or school
  • has the tendency to organize staff pools and make bets
  • is absent for extended, unexplained periods of time
  • abandons personal responsibilities

These are the most common behavioural, emotional, health and financial signs of problem gambling that punters need to be aware of:

Emotional Signs

  • withdrawal from family and friends
  • seems distant, or anxious or has difficulty paying attention
  • experience severe mood swings and sudden outbursts of inexplicable anger
  • complains of boredom or restlessness
  • seems on edge, depressed or suicidal

Financial Signs

  • Frequently borrowing money or asking for salary advances
  • Takes a second job without having a change in finances
  • Cashes in savings accounts, RRSP’s or insurance plans
  • Quickly alternates between being broke and having a lot of money
  • Friends or family members complain that valuables are missing, or money is missing from their bank account or wallet.

Health Signs

All the stress that problem gambling instills has a reactionary effect in the punter’s body. Problem gambling can cause depression, anxiety and self-destructive tendencies so there are signs to watch out for. Depression and anxiety can lead to sleep deprivation, weight gain or weight loss, acne and dark circles under the eyes. It’s common that a compulsive gambler in the throes of problem gambling can experience health problems like:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Digestive, stomach and bowel problems
  • Experiences difficulty sleeping
  • Overeating, or loss of appetite

Time Related Problem Gambling Symptoms

These common time-related signs could potentially be a warning sign that you or someone you know is in the cyclic pattern of compulsive problem gambling :

  • Spending more and more time gambling
  • Being secretive then lying about their unexplained absences
  • Being late for commitments and appointments
  • Taking a lot of sick days or days off
  • Taking an unusual amount of time for what is a simple task.


Excessive, compulsive problem gambling can incite emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms may become so drastic that it can lead a punter to make an desperate attempt to end their life. Casinos in Vegas specifically do not have windows that open all the way for the very reason that they want to prevent their gamblers from jumping to their death. The highs and lows of gambling can be devastating. Losing everything to gambling leaves a punter feeling absolutely hopeless and their ability to think clearly is gone.


Gambling has both the short and long-term side effects and because of which, gambling addiction often results in other secondary addictions. They serve as coping mechanisms for punters who are stressed out by the anxiety of problem gambling. Punters often resort to drugs and alcohol attempting to appease the anxiety that is brought on by problem gambling. Even if a punter doesn’t reach financial ruin, they still may struggle with drug and alcohol addiction dealing with it’s long term effects. 

It’s difficult detecting a gambling problem, because many punters who gamble do not show their feelings. Having perfected their ‘poker face‘ they may lie or get angry when questioned about their gambling behaviour. Close loved ones of problem gamblers say they feel that they should have noticed sooner, yet remember the punter most likely went to to great lengths to hide their problem gambling from you. It can be super difficult to know when a punter has crossed the line from recreational gambling to problem gambling.


Many people find it difficult to understand why punters can’t just stop gambling.  Choosing to change gambling behaviour is ultimately the responsibility of the punter who chooses how they gamble. When a punter chooses to continue gambling, it means that they have not hit their breaking point, their rock bottom. It’s a personal deciding moment when a punter realizes they are at their breaking point, however dark it is enlightening.

Stages of change in problem gambling

When a punter wants and starts to change their gambling behaviour, there are different stages that they move through to be aware of:

  1. The ‘No problem’ – At this stage punters enjoys the positives of gambling and they outweigh the negatives and they don’t experience it as problem gambling.
  2. The ‘Thinking about it’ –  Punters feel ambivalent at this stage about their gambling practices. They may still enjoy it, but they are aware that it costs time and money. In this stage, a punter may be thinking about making a change in their gambling behaviour.
  3. The ‘Getting ready’ – Punters in this stage feel ready stop or learn how to control their gambling. They have made the active decision to do something about it. For example, they may have a date in the near future when they’re going to stop or start making serious changes.
  4. The ‘Taking action’ – The punter has started changing their gambling behavior. Punters experiencing this stage may say, “I’m changing.”.They need to prepare a strategy that can help them to change their behaviour. (Seeking support is a great tool for punters in this stage because they’re experiencing an array of overwhelming emotions as they consider the consequences of their gambling.)
  5. The ‘Maintaining change’ – This is a very difficult stage. After a punter identifies what they they need to change, and how they need to implement a strategy they have to maintain it. Now all that is left to do is practice, practice, practice because routine turns behaviour into a habit. 
  6. The ‘Slips and falls’ – Punters may experience a ‘slip and fall’ and start gambling again. It’s a common part of the process of change. A slip and fall can actually be a good thing because the punter can reevaluate their strategy and adjust the plan. Starting the stages of change again from the beginning. 

Understanding these stages of change while attempting to recover from problem gambling can help a punter decide the best way to respond. Gambling can be fun and, for the lucky few, the chance to win the big jackpot. Unfortunately, gambling’s fine line with problem gambling is nothing to ignore. What is fun can become addictive turning a punter obsessive and compulsive.

A punter who find themselves in the throes of problem gambling could be set up for financial, social, psychological or even physical ruin. Support is available for anyone affected by a gambling issue, not just the punter themselves. Getting support  for problem gambling is as simple as telling a friend or other family member about your concern. There may already be someone you know in your life who could listen and offer a helping hand. As well as family and friends, there are others in the community who can offer support, such as a doctor, member of your church or health care group.


GamCare offers free, impartial and confidential advice and support about problem gambling. Advisers are available to talk from 8am to midnight every day of the year. If you are struggling with the effects of problem gambling, or if someone close to you is, GamCare is there for you.

HelpLines (Phone and Web Chat)

If you are concerned about the amount of time, energy or money that you or someone you know is spending gambling, then you can act now. 

HelpLine: Freephone 0808 8020 133

(Available for anyone living in England, Scotland and Wales)