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gaming, gambling? or Both?

You bet. Is it a problem?

What does the Research say?

Both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) lists gambling as a treatable condition. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) added gaming disorder to the (ICD). 


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Is it gaming? Or gambling?

In order Or both?

in order to survive, our brains generate neurotransmitters which reward behaviors that keep us alive. Food for example, when consumed generates pleasurable feelings thereby increasing the likelihood that one will continue to eat, and thus survive rather than starving to death. This reward/pleasure loop, is now considered primary to addictive behaviors.

Gambling and gaming generate brain rewards similarly to engaging in other survival activities.

Some Stats

Gambling is widespread phenomenon and 68% of Americans admit that they have gambled at least once in their lives. Different forms of gambling include racing, lotteries, casinos, sports gambling, internet gambling and more.

Likewise, video games are pervasive throughout society as well, with average age of individual playing video games being 33 years of age. According to research, 1 in 10 people in America need some form of treatment for gaming addiction. Recently, both these addictive behaviors have merged and many internet games and gaming activities contain some element of gambling as well, especially for teens who have easy access to these games.

According to the DSM-5, the symptoms of gambling disorder are as follows:

  • Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
  • Is restless or irritable when attempting to quit gambling
  • Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control gambling
  • Is often preoccupied with gambling
  • Often gambles when feeling distressed
  • After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even
  • Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling

Whereas, according to ICD-11, the symptoms of internet gaming disorder include;

  • impaired control over gaming
  • Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  • Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

The Root Cause Behind Gambling/Gaming

It’s the general idea that addictive gambling and gaming is the problem, but in reality, it may be something much deeper in a person’s life that drives them to play.  They may feel a void or a need to channel energies as a way of escaping negative situations.

For the bullied, misunderstood and unaccepted, playing gambling games may offer a renewed sense of self-identity which they didn’t feel previously. They can be who and what they want to be without prejudice or bias. Being judged instead on their ability to play games or gamble and not on current social standing. When  challenged in the game, it may offer gamers and gamblers a sense of purpose, or a goal to work towards. This is an achievement paradigm, they get to see constant measurable growth while receiving more rewards in gaming and gambling than in other pursuits such as school or work.

What needs to change?

Other than psychiatric help, some changes in the overall system would be helpful in decreasing the tendency of being an addictive gambler or gamer. Access to these games and gambling activities is growing exponentially. According to a research, just being in the proximity of a casino increases the risk of gambling. Hence, the number of casinos in a state must be monitored. Nowadays though, the casino may be a click away in a popular video game.

Darker Side

Gambling is not just a financial problem. Gambling and gaming are emotional issues where a person feels the need to gamble or do gaming to alleviate stress or because they feel a certain type of euphoria when they gamble or play games. Addictive gambling and gaming has a very negative impact not just on psychological health but on social aspects of life. It can lead to the loss of relationships, unemployment, mental health issues, shame, guilt and even suicide. Teens people who fall into this cycle may neglect educational pursuits, in search of immediate gratification. Moreover, studies show that people who are involved in gambling and games have smaller entorhinal cortex, which works with the hippocampus to create memories and maps of life.

Neurobiology of Reward Seeking Behaviour

When we dig deeper into the neurobiology of addictive gambling and gaming the chemistry of addiction takes place mostly in the brain’s limbic system which is the centre of the brain that controls our emotions– often referred as the brain reward center. This center responds to new information from the nervous system by releasing chemical messenger called neurotransmitters. One of the most important reward chemicals is dopamine. It is released when our brain believes we should take a strong note of our current behaviour and remember it. Its level rises in response to pleasurable experience, the exciting sensation you feel when your dopamine is getting high. Addictive gambling and gaming messes with our levels of dopamine. The neural circuits manipulated by wagering money on games of chance are actually the same ones that were originally involved to help animals assess reward versus risk.


People with gambling and gaming disorders may be hard to engage in treatment. One minute they may be losing and going through a downward spiral, and open to treatment, and within a short time, they are winning in the game, and unwilling to enter treatment as a result of their in-game winnings and success. They often fail to recognize the distress it may be causing in the long run as they are heavily involved in being instantly gratified and rewarded. Often when people do ask for help; it isn’t generally for their addictive behaviors of gaming or gambling, but the associated mental disorders like depression, anxiety, or feelings of guilt and shame. For such people, it is important to connect with others who may be experiencing similar issues, as they are better understood by each other and help in healing and moving on.


Warning Signs and symptoms


  • Persistent or compulsive video gaming and/or gambling
  • Pursues gaming and gambling activities over other hobbies, events or activities
  • Although it’s obvious to others, denies there is a problem
  • Seemingly unable to stop
  • Would rather gamble, or game rather than do other things
  • Gets frustrated, angry or mad when restricted
  • Lies about gambling and gaming use
  • Avoids offline activities in effort to gamble or game
  • May feel shame, guilt, and suicidal 
  • May gamble as a way out of perceived problems
  • Problems exist in multiple areas in a person’s life
  • Continues to gamble or game to win back losses

Risk Factors

  • Genetics; a history of addiction in family of origin
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Being in proximity of others who gamble or game frequently

    Look for these common problems


    • Seems to have financial problems
    • Frequently needs to borrow money
    • Constantly seeking ways to make money
    • Avoids discussion of finances
    • Steals money from others
    • People in the household may notice their own money is missing
    • Unexplained credit card charges


    • Pesters family and friends for money
    • Steals money from others
    • Neglects family members, spouse or and/or friends
    • Prefers gambling and gaming over time spent with others
    • Conflicts develop when discussing gaming or gambling concerns
    • Doesn’t return phone calls (especially if recent discussions about gambling have taken place)
    • Neglects others to continue playing or gambling
    • Frequently talks about gambling or gaming


    • Gambling on school grounds
    • Performance differs from capabilities
    • Refuses to attend school or complete academic schoolwork


    • Unexcused absences
    • Shows up late for work
    • Engages in online activities rather than performing job

    Mental and Emotional Health

    • May become depressed, anxious or withdrawn
    • May become socially avoidant
    • Relationship strain
    • May have thoughts of suicide, especially as loses mount

    Physical Health

    • Health problems related to a general lack of movement, sitting in front of a computer, laptop or on their device
    • Poor nutrition
    • Weight fluctuations
    • Uncontrolled diabetes
    • Seizures (in people with epilepsy)

      Ways to help

      Support for Gamblers and Gamers

      • Learn the risks of problem gambling
      • Participation in Internet and Technology Addicts anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous
      • Connect with a sponsor whose strong in recovery
      • Confide in someone you trust about what’s going on
      • Reducing the shame around problematic use
      • Hanging out with people who don’t gamble or game
      • Providing supportive understanding
      • Abstain from gambling and gaming activities
      • Set up a financial accountability plan
      • Meet with pastor or church counselor
      • Further educate yourself on gaming and gambling
      • Connecting with a specialist who understands both gambling and gaming, not just gambling
      • Seek intensive residential care when other options have failed
      • Seek professional help if you or someone you love is experiencing feelings of loss and despair or is suicidal

        Perhaps it’s time for a reSTART

        There are very few residential programs that treat these gaming and gambling together. reSTART is considered the national leader in gaming related treatment. Join us for a treatment intensive, and live the life you deserve.

        reSTART is the leader in residential care for gaming and gambling addiction

        Here when you need us

        Talk to an admissions specialist at 800.682.6934

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