Gambling Addiction: A Guide to the Different Types of Gamblers and Their Risk of Addiction

Pinball table close up view of vintage game machine.

Until fairly recently, the word ‘addiction’ was most commonly associated with drugs and alcohol. However, as more research comes to light, new types of addiction are being recognized, including a range of non-substance-related behaviours. 

Gambling addiction – or Gambling Disorder – is one of these behavioural addictions and is now officially listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), an estimated two million adults (1%) in the U.S. fit the criteria for a Gambling Disorder, with an additional four to six million (2–3%) thought to be problem gamblers. 

What are gambling addiction and problem gambling?

Gambling comes in many forms, from betting on sports to scratch cards, casino table games, Bingo, and slot machines. While it can be harmless fun for most people, given the right set of circumstances it can quickly spiral into an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences for some.

Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder. Similar to someone suffering from substance addiction, the gambler can’t control their impulse to gamble, even when it leads to harmful consequences for them and their loved ones.

Problem gambling is often a precursor to addiction, where the gambler’s life is disrupted by their gambling behaviour to a degree, and they experience some adverse effects. The only difference is that the gambler still holds some control at this stage, however small.

Problem gambling and gambling addiction are both frequently associated with other mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, and anxiety. Therefore, these issues must be addressed simultaneously to successfully overcome a gambling problem and any underlying causes.

Different types of gamblers and their risk of addiction 

Robert L Custer, M.D., identified six types of gamblers, each with their own level of risk for becoming addicted. 

1. Professional gamblers

professional gambler

These full-time gamblers make a living from their wins, often taking part in high-stakes games like poker. They typically choose forms of gambling where the outcome isn’t purely dependent on luck, relying on skilled calculations and statistics to win big. 

Professional gamblers possess extraordinary patience, frustration tolerance, and self-control and can limit the amount of money and time they spend on gambling. With these gamblers, there is no impulsivity, risks are carefully weighed up, and they know when to walk away if they’re on a winning streak.  

This type of gambler is rare and considered low risk for developing an addiction.

2. Casual social gamblers

Casual social gamblers infrequently engage in gambling activities for sociability, relaxation, and entertainment purposes. Gambling is just one of many recreational activities – that they can take or leave – and it doesn’t interfere with their family, financial, social, or work obligations. 

These gamblers can enjoy occasional nights at a casino with friends, buy weekly lottery tickets, bet on sporting events, join office sweepstakes, or take an annual trip to Las Vegas. They have no strong desire to win; their primary focus is to relax and have fun. 

Casual social gamblers are considered low risk for addiction unless their gambling develops into a crutch to cope with a traumatic event in their lives or an unexpectedly big win triggers them. 

3. Serious social gamblers

This type of gambler invests more time in gambling activities than the casual social gambler and typically relies on gambling as their primary source of entertainment and relaxation. 

While serious social gamblers enjoy gambling as an outlet for coping with stress, they can usually maintain reasonable control over their gambling activities. They will still prioritize family, friends, financial security, health, and professional obligations. 

As they rely solely on gambling for their escapism, the serious social gambler can be at higher risk of sliding into problematic gambling if they experience prolonged stress, a traumatic event, or a massive win.

4. Relief and escape gamblers

gambling man playing on the computer

For these gamblers, gambling activities are used to fill an emotional need, to help them change how they feel, and temporarily escape from difficulties or crises in life. As a result, gambling offers them a therapeutic experience rather than a euphoric one – relieving feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, loneliness, or simply boredom. 

Due to their heightened emotional state, relief/escape gamblers tend to have poor judgment and decision-making skills and are therefore prone to losing significant amounts of money in a relatively short period. They can, however, still maintain some control over their gambling habits. 

As addictions commonly form when people engage in behaviours to fulfill emotional needs, relief/escape gamblers are viewed as high risk and vulnerable. Any prolonged period of stress or a one-off traumatic event can push them into a vicious cycle, especially if they then start to chase losses.

5. Antisocial personality gamblers

This type of gambler typically makes a living out of their gambling activities, but unlike professional gamblers, they look to make their money illegally. They will use any means necessary to win large amounts of money, like fixing sporting events or hosting gambling games/activities where they use marked cards or loaded dice. 

Many have a history of crime and antisocial behaviour, and while they may appear charming, they are actually manipulative, deceitful, and can be aggressive. In addition, they rarely feel remorse for their behaviour or empathy for the harm they cause others through their deceptions. 

Antisocial behaviour is related to impulse control problems and is a major personality trait found in pathological gamblers. This Cluster B personality disorder is associated with severe gambling problems and an early onset of gambling addiction.

6. Compulsive-pathological gamblers

Compulsive-pathological gamblers are completely addicted to gambling and have lost all control of their gambling habits. Nevertheless, they will continue to gamble – unable to cut back or stop – despite the obvious negative consequences for themselves and their loved ones. 

Their life is consumed by gambling, and it takes priority over all other aspects of their life, including family, friends, health, and career. Stealing, lying, and embezzling to feed their habit are not uncommon. Wins and losses dictate their feelings of self-worth, and many will spiral into self-destructive behaviours, developing other addictions to cope with the guilt and remorse. 

Despite displaying all the signs of a gambling disorder, the compulsive-pathological gambler will deny it and do all they can to hide it from others.

*It’s important to be aware that addiction can happen to anyone, from any walk of life, given the right set of circumstances. It is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy who will develop an addiction and who will not.

Asking for help 

Who is the right candidate for outpatient treatment - Centres for Health and Healing

Gambling addiction is a severe problem that has the potential to destroy a person’s life if left untreated. 

While every gambler will experience their addiction differently, it’s crucial to recognize the common signs and symptoms as early as possible – and to seek help.

At Centres for Health and Healing, we understand that to treat gambling addiction successfully, it’s vital to first understand the type of addiction, the individual’s unique situation, and any co-occurring mental health issues. Then, we can prepare a personalized treatment plan to support long-term recovery.

Speaking to a professional

If you or a loved one needs help with a gambling problem, call us today to speak with one of our specialists.

We understand how challenging it can be to reach out in the first instance, but we are always available to listen to your story. Talking about your concerns is often the first step to feeling better and finding a way forward to living a more fulfilling, happier life.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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