Compulsive Gambling

24/7 help is available. Call 1-800-GAMBLE-5.

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling estimates more than 300,000 Wisconsin residents have a gambling problem.  The Department of Health Services has partnered with the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling to raise awareness about compulsive gambling. 

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLE-5 or 1-800-426-2535.

In 2014, more than 14,000 people called for help. 

What is compulsive gambling?

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling defines compulsive gambling as a progressive disorder characterized by a continuous or periodic loss of control over gambling.  Individuals with this disorder have a preoccupation with gambling and continue with it despite adverse consequences.  

Compulsive gambling is no different than addictions to alcohol and drugs 

Since 1980, the American Psychiatric Association has recognized compulsive gambling as a mental disorder. It is said to be the "hidden addiction," because unlike alcohol and drug abuse, most people don't see any of the symptoms. Even spouses and other family members seldom recognize the problem until it is too late.

Compulsive gamblers are completely preoccupied with gambling. Gambling becomes the focal point of their lives, just as the lives of alcohol and drug abusers revolve around obtaining and consuming alcohol or drugs. The compulsive gambler becomes obsessed with getting money to gamble so that he or she can pay off past gambling debts. Like alcohol and drug abuse, compulsive gambling feeds upon itself. When compulsive gamblers lose at gambling, they "chase their losses." Instead of seeing gambling as the problem, they see it as the solution. It's also important to note that they have a higher rate of suicide than other addictions. Eventually compulsive gamblers ask relatives and friends to "bail them out." When that fails to stop their addiction, they often engage in illegal acts such as embezzlement, fraud or forgery. It is at that point that a compulsive gambler sees self-destruction as the only way out.

Signs of compulsive gambling

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling has compiled a list of behaviors that may signal someone is a compulsive gambler and needs help.

  • Constantly thinking about or talking about gambling
  • Repeated attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling
  • Gambling to escape stress or other problems
  • Spending more time or money on gambling than you can afford
  • Gambling until all of your money is gone or gambling to try to win back previous losses
  • Lying about your gambling activity
  • Borrowing money for gambling
  • Stealing money to get more cash to bet
  • Neglecting work, family, household responsibilities or personal needs because of gambling

Diagnostic screen for gambling problems

The NORC Diagnostic Screen for Gambling Problems-Self Administered (NODS-SA) tool from Aurora Health Care provides a simple self test to evaluate your gambling behavior. This tool is not a diagnosis and does not replace a face-to-face evaluation with a trained clinical professional.

Last Revised: February 27, 2015