Whether you love a good game of poker or have been known to haunt the occasional penny slot machine, you’re not alone if you enjoy a friendly wager every now and then. But what if you’ve started to notice that you seem to be indulging in more and more gambling to the point that it’s begun to disrupt your life? Where’s the line between an overenthusiastic poker player and a gambling addict? Luckily, there are a lot of great resources out there that can help identify and diagnose gambling addiction and connect you to people who can help.

What exactly is a gambling addiction?

Though it may be tempting to think that a loved one’s gambling addiction is simply a matter of weak willpower, this is just not the case if they are actually an addict. Much like drug addicts, alcoholics, or people with any other impulse-control disorder, gambling addicts suffer from a legit mental health condition. Many, though not all, gambling addicts also suffer from addictions to other substances or self-destructive behaviors. As hard as it can be for someone who has never experienced addiction to understand, once a compulsive addict’s addiction has taken hold, they pretty much lose the power of choice when it comes to the urge to gamble.

At that point, it isn’t even about whether they win or lose but becomes more about chasing the thrill or “high” that comes from a win. Science has actually backed this up with brain images which revealed that gambling addicts experience remarkably similar effects to cocaine users. So similar were the findings that gambling addiction is the only behavioral based disorder officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

Unfortunately, the fact that compulsive gambling doesn’t rely on substances doesn’t mean that it doesn’t induce a series of negative effects in the brain. These include things like impulsivity, failure to assess risk, and cravings so strong the addict is unable to concentrate on anything else until they indulge in gambling, even if it’s destroying their lives.

The different types of gambling addicts

Much like any other addict, gambling addicts don’t all look or behave alike. Among some of the most common forms of gambling addiction are:

Compulsive Gambling

Compulsive gamblers are usually the easiest to identify because they simply can’t control themselves when it comes to the need to place a bet. They may spend their days at the casino or regularly attempt to make wagers with various people in their lives. Such bets can be over things as obvious as sporting events or as small as the number of a certain color of cars that drive past in a given amount of time. Their lives typically suffer as a result, but regardless of anything from a huge amount of debt to bankruptcy, they just can’t seem to stop, despite the negative consequences.

Binge Gambling

Binge gamblers can be a little trickier to identify because they only go on gambling sprees from time to time, as opposed to the compulsive gambler whose life looks like one big bet. They generally tend to surface during their favorite sporting season or any time they are able to get near a casino. Among the biggest giveaways is that they can’t just place a casual bet at a blackjack table or enjoy an hour at the slots and then walk away. Once they’ve started gambling, they find themselves virtually unable to stop until the spree has run its course.

Problem Gambling

Then, you have your problem gambler. They may not be an addict yet, but seem to have an addiction that’s just begging to go full blown. These gamblers may not be quite as bad as binge or problem gamblers but they aren’t necessarily in control either. They may find themselves lying to loved ones about their gambling, chasing huge losses, or gambling to the point that they disrupt their lives in some way. If they don’t stop betting altogether or get help before its too late, they run a great risk of going on to become addicts.

How do you know if you have a problem?

Unfortunately, if you have to ask whether you have a problem, you probably already have your answer. If you find that compulsive gambling has disrupted your life in any way, find yourself lying to loved ones about your habits, borrowing money, etc. then you may be experiencing symptoms of gambling addiction. For a more thorough diagnosis, you can take a self-assessment questionnaire through Gambler’s Anonymous.

You are not alone

If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from gambling addiction then rest assured that there is plenty of free help available. You can talk to someone any time you like through a number of hotlines such as:

You may even be able to seek help at your favorite casino. Ironic as it may sound, many casinos donate considerable funds to gambling addiction rehabilitation centers and can help point you in the right direction. Some may even be able to file a request if you ask them to no longer admit you, though you will definitely want to seek outside help if you do end up pursuing this route. While it’s a great idea, it’s a bit like an alcoholic asking to no longer be admitted into the only liquor store in town. Though the alcoholic will have made it harder for themselves to get a drink, it will only be a matter of time before their addiction starts to drive them crazy or they seek out alcohol from other sources unless the underlying causes are treated.