For most of us, gambling is just recreation—something we do occasionally with some of the money we set aside for entertainment after we’ve taken care of necessities. But many forms of entertainment come with some element of risk. Gambling is no different, and there are simple steps we can take to reduce the risk associated with this form of entertainment as well.

But for some, gambling becomes more than recreation or a hobby. It ceases being a choice and becomes an uncontrollable addiction. Problem gambling is gambling that goes beyond the normal bounds of gambling for fun, recreation or entertainment. Bills go unpaid. Jobs, friends and family are ignored. Basic needs like money for food and rent are neglected because of the urge to gamble. Some gamblers even become suicidal or turn to illegal activities to support their addiction.

People with a gambling problem are not bad people. They are not morally weak or lacking in willpower.  Research suggests that gambling and other addictions stem from a complex interaction of a person’s biology, life history, and exposure to the object of their addiction. People with gambling problems can be rich, poor, young, old, male, female, or of any ethnic background. They are people just like us. They are good people with a bad problem.

Am I at Risk?

When assessing whether your gambling activities constitute problem gambling, consider the following symptoms and indicators:

  • Amount of time spent gambling
  • Increase in gambling time and places
  • Increase in size of bets (sudden and dramatic)
  • Creating special occasions for gambling (canceling other plans)
  • Intensity of interest in gambling (constant tension and excitement)
  • Boasting about winning, evasive about losing
  • Exaggerated display of money and other possessions
  • Gambling when there is a crisis
  • Drop off in other activities
  • Frequent absences from home and work
  • Excessive phone use
  • Withdrawal from family
  • Personality changes (increased irritability/hostility)
  • Diversion of family funds

What To Do

You may want to take the 2-minute risk test to learn more. If you’re concerned that gambling is becoming more than a game for you, try using our list of guidelines to moderate your play. View Guidelines.

Gamblers Anonymous may help. Find a meeting near you.

Seek treatment. Call 1-800-333-HOPE. The state of Minnesota will pay for treatment if you cannot afford it, and will also help family members. Start by calling the Helpline.