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Get Help for Problem Gambling

If you think that you or someone you care about might have a gambling problem, call the California Problem Gambling Help Line: 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) or get help here!

What is Problem Gambling?

Signs to watch out for.

Some people, 1%-3% of the nation's adult population, have a progressive behavior disorder known as Problem or Compulsive Gambling. Compulsive gambling is a progressive behavior leading to an uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. Pathological (or compulsive) gambling is classified as a diagnosable and treatable illness by the American Psychiatric Association and has been since 1980. Below are a few signs to watch out for if you suspect that you or someone you know is a problem gambler.

Generally, a problem gambler will:

  • Increasingly lose control over gambling
  • Become obsessed with gambling and with obtaining money with which to gamble
  • Think irrationally
  • Continue to gamble despite adverse consequences

The American Psychiatric Association in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) has defined the following characteristics as sure Signs of Problem Gambling:

  • A preoccupation or uncontrollable urge to gamble
  • Increasing bets to sustain a thrill
  • Exhibiting agitation when attempting to cut back
  • Lying to conceal gambling activity
  • Financing bets through illegal activity
  • Chasing one's losses
  • Gambling as an escape
  • Jeopardizing significant relationships
  • Relying on a financial bailout
  • Failing in an effort to control or stop betting

If problem gamblers do not abstain completely from wagering or gambling, they risk losing their jobs, their families, their freedom and, sometimes, their lives. Any wager at all triggers a wagering binge and the problem gambler feels isolated, out of control; swamped in hopelessness, shame and fear. Sadly, 20% of problem gamblers are reported to have attempted suicide.

According to Dr. Robert L. Custer, a pioneer researcher in the problem gambling field, problem gambling has three distinct phases.

The Three Phases of Problem Gambling

Winning or Adventurous Phase: The Search for Action or Escape

The gambler will find this phase fun, exciting, entertaining and rewarding with occasional big wins. They may experience unreasonable optimism or fantasies about the big win.

Losing Phase: The Chase

The gambler may experience consistent losses and a preoccupation with gambling, which may lead to selling personal possessions, borrowing to bet, personality changes, gambling to recoup losses (called "chasing the bet") and missing work.

Desperation Phase: Panic and the End of the Line

The gambler may begin stealing or become involved in other criminal activity to cover bets.

Adapted from Understanding Compulsive Gambling, Hazelden Foundation, 1986

If you think you might have a gambling problem, then you probably do. Be a winner and take a step toward a solution.

Answer the following questions truthfully. You will be taking the first step toward a solution for your gambling problem.


  1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
  10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
  13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
  14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

If you answered yes to at least seven of these questions, you are a compulsive gambler. But there’s anonymous help available to you right now, including the California Problem Gambling Help Line at: 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537).

Find help with problem gambling »