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What does it mean to have a gambling problem?

Gambling is a problem when it negatively affects your finances, job, relationships with family or friends, or your health. Are you sometimes unable to pay the bills because you’ve spent your money on lottery or scratch tickets; card, slot, or dice games; sports betting; horse or dog races; or Internet gambling? When you lose money gambling, do you think that you need to bet more to win it all back? Have you tried to hide your gambling from family or friends? Is gambling the only thing you like doing, or do you spend most of your time thinking about ways to gamble?  A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be a sign of a gambling addiction.

Gambling is betting something of value on the outcome of an event — like a football or baseball game, a card game, or a race — when the likelihood of winning or losing is uncertain. Although many people gamble occasionally, some people gamble even when it causes problems for themselves or others. They may want, need, or have tried to stop gambling but feel like they can’t. They may start gambling more often or taking bigger and bigger betting risks. These are some of the warning signs of a gambling addiction.

“In between deployments my buddies and I would hit the casino. But we ended up losing our paychecks and so I had to start coming up with creative excuses why I didn’t have any money for my family.”

For some Veterans, gambling starts as entertainment, but then can become a major way to relieve stress or boredom or to feel better when going through a tough time. Some Veterans may gamble for its sense of risk and thrill. Gambling can be a distraction, or perhaps a way to avoid coping with some of the difficulties that may arise when transitioning from military to civilian life. One of the symptoms of a serious gambling addiction is continuing to gamble even when you no longer find it enjoyable.

When gambling becomes a habit, it can cause problems with your job, relationships, and your mental or physical health. People who gamble compulsively may have financial issues, go into debt, or keep turning to others for gifts or loans. They may even steal from family, friends, or their employers so they can keep gambling. The need to gamble, the problems it causes, and the stress of not being able to stop can be related to guilt, depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol or drug problems, bipolar, and health issues.

If I’m experiencing a gambling problem, what can I do about it right away?

  • Acknowledge that gambling has become a problem in your life.
  • Recognize that it is possible to make a change.
  • Make a list of reasons not to gamble that you can refer to when you feel the urge to gamble.
  • Write down a list of things — including people and places — that make you want to gamble, along with ways that you can avoid them.
  • Practice relaxation exercises such as deep breathing to help you manage stress and to manage feelings if you feel the strong urge to gamble.
  • Make a list of activities you enjoy that you can do instead of gambling.
  • Spend time with supportive people in your life who do not gamble.

People who are close to you may have noticed you’re having a tough time, even if they are unaware of your gambling. You may want to talk to your family and friends about what you’re experiencing. They may be able to provide support and help you find solutions that are right for you.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

It can be difficult to handle a gambling problem on your own. Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for the issues they face and find solutions that improve their lives. You can also consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage a gambling problem even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser
  • A gambling helpline or self-help group

Explore these resources for more information about gambling problems in Veterans.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to gambling, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and alcohol or drugs problems.

Problem Gambling Confidential Helpline Network
The National Council on Problem Gambling provides a toll-free, confidential helpline throughout the U.S. for anyone seeking help with gambling issues. Dial 1-800-522-4700.

Gamblers Anonymous
This website can help you find a local support group for people dealing with gambling problems. The nationwide toll-free number for immediate help is 1-888-GA-HELPS.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Gambling may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.