Risk Factors for Gambling Addiction

Sadly, gambling addiction is more common than you might think. In Britain, for example, up to 450,000 are believed to have gambling problems and the number is on the rise. Problem gambling, however, only affects a small percentage of the numbers of people who enjoy a bet. So what causes one person to develop a problem while others do not?

General risk factors

Although it is possible to become hooked on gambling after a single bet, in most cases the problem develops over time. The risk factors common to many gambling addicts include:

  • A life changing event or trauma – problem gambling can be triggered by significant events like unexpected redundancy, retirement or perhaps the loss of a loved one.

  • Financial problems – in some cases, individuals take to gambling in the hope of relieving financial problems. The result, of course, is that the problems get worse as losses mount, so encouraging further gambling.

  • Substance abuse – in around half the cases of gambling addiction, the addict also exhibits drug or alcohol abuse.

  • Mental disorder – problem gamblers sometimes suffer from mental disorders like depression.

  • Early success – an early win can encourage continued gambling even after losses start to accumulate.

  • Abuse – gambling addicts have often suffered physical or mental abuse.

  • Lack of hobbies or other interests.

Convenience – in the modern world gambling is becoming more convenient. Aside from the growing numbers of casinos, betting offices and the plethora of gaming machines, telephone betting and the Internet mean that there is an ever-increasing variety of gambling opportunities available that come right in the gambler’s home.

Age and sex factors

Studies show that the young and elderly gamble for different reasons and that there are differences between the sexes.

Younger people tend to engage in impulse gambling and to gamble for the thrill. Those over 55, however, are s impulsive; they gamble not so much for the thrill but other reasons:

  • To alleviate boredom – retirement leaves many with time on their hands that they do not know how to fill.

  • To compensate for loneliness – the elderly have often lost their spouse and their children live far away. They can therefore feel lonely and unwanted and use gambling to compensate.

  • To alleviate physical discomfort – older people suffer physical problems that gambling helps them to forget momentarily.

  • Dementia – dementia sometimes has the effect of diminishing normal inhibitions, which can lead to problem gambling.

Further, it is becoming evident that women develop gambling problems later in life than men. This is possibly because women have longer life spans and outlive their husbands leaving them alone.

The elderly are also more vulnerable than younger problem gamblers. They often do not understand increasingly more complex gaming machines and so sometimes bet more than they intended.

The results of problem gambling

Gambling addiction leads not only to financial difficulties but also places stress on relationships and can affect work and social life. On a personal level it can lead to secretive behaviour to conceal the gambling, possible criminal activity to get money with which to gamble and feelings of shame and increased stress.


Gambling addiction can be treated successfully, the best results usually being achieved using cognitive behavioural therapy although medication might be necessary in some cases. Each case, however, is treated on its merits.


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