News & Events

Understanding compulsive gambling

June 20, 2014

As gambling becomes more prevalent in our society, more people will develop problems with their gambling behavior. Compulsive or problem gamblers lose control over their gambling and continue to gamble, despite adverse consequences. Many will make attempts to reduce, control or stop their gambling, but are unable to do so. People from all walks of life who are responsible and hard-working can succumb to compulsive gambling and may experience a complete change in their personality.

The excitement and escape compulsive gambling gives them can become more important than family, work, values and/or physical health. Compulsive gambling is sometimes called the “hidden” addiction as people become very skilled and manipulative at hiding their behavior. Unlike drugs and alcohol, where a person can obviously be intoxicated or smell of alcohol, the compulsive gambler has no obvious tell-tale signs. Many friends and family members are caught totally off-guard, and are in total shock and disbelief that the “responsible one” has become compulsive.

Gambling can release powerful brain chemicals and hormones that produce a simultaneous exhilaration and calming effect. This “high” is what problem gamblers tend to seek and once compulsive, can become addicted. Gambling can allow people to escape or become “numb” to problems, stress or life itself. Usually, individuals in trouble with gambling cannot see what is happening due to an almost delusional denial system or basic lack of understanding of the addictive process and how it relates to them.

When the compulsive gambling stops because the money is gone or exhaustion sets in, the gambler experiences tremendous guilt and shame. There are feelings of self-loathing, realizing the consequences of the financial loss on their family. Despite these terrible feelings, gamblers will rationalize that things will be “different next time” or they will be “lucky” and continue to gamble. Others are so depressed and hopeless; they become more desperate to continue gambling to escape their reality. This, of course, only adds to their loss of control and related consequences.

Some of the signs of problem gambling are:
• Preoccupation, obsession or over-involvement in gambling.
• An increase in the amount of money being wagered to achieve the desired excitement; increased betting is similar to the tolerance that people develop with drugs and alcohol.
• Gambling to escape or solve problems.
• After losing, a person will return in an attempt to regain lost money; this is referred to as “chasing the loss.”
• A person will lie to family and friends about the frequency and problems with their gambling.
• Borrowing money from associates, credit cards or lending institutions to finance gambling

For additional information on problem gambling and the treatment services available in Northern Arizona, contact Flagstaff Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Services Outpatient Clinic at 928-213-6400. 

Marc Zuch, L.I.S.A.C., is a licensed independent substance abuse counselor and compulsive gambling counselor at Flagstaff Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Services. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or view For more information, please see your physician.