web analytics

Symptoms of Compulsive Gambling to Watch For in Low Income Households

Gambling is a popular, exhilarating pastime with a payday potential for prize money, and sadly it impacts low income families more than others with too many developing an addiction to it. From addiction to lottery tickets to horse racetracks, from investing in penny stocks to compulsive gambling on sports or online cards or slots, gambling reaches people far beyond the Las Vegas strip. Not only does gambling always favor “the house” to win, but studies such as from show that low income and poor people are much more likely to gamble. In other words, those who can least afford to lose money often gamble the most and often develop addictions.

Most Americans have wagered their cash on a chance to win big bucks before. In fact, a 2016 Gallup poll found 64 percent of U.S. adults gamble once or more yearly. The National Council on Problem Gambling shows that 85% of Americans have gambled a least once in their lives, and it is legal now (in some form or fashion) in 48 states. But when does gambling cross the line from harmless fun to problematic? How can you tell a loved one’s gambling hobby has become an addiction? Here are 10 symptoms of compulsive gambling to watch for.

1. Chasing More Coin from the Addiciton

Undoubtedly, gambling comes with its fair share of wins and losses. Compulsive gamblers get stuck on this rollercoaster of up-and-down emotions. Even when in the red, addicted gamblers can’t debark the ride. Most keep betting in hopes of the next round being a success. they often poor money into lottery, online sports betting, or other activities. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American household spends over $1050 per year on lottery tickets, with lower income families (who earn less than $30,000 per year) spending about 13% of their household income on lotteries. That money could go towards paying the bills, saving, job skills, or countless other productive assets.

Gambling addiction is all about “chasing” the next win despite a string of bad luck. Some start to firmly believe in delusional hopes of recouping all their lost cash if they continue. In their minds, the only plausible solution to failure is gambling more. This is what is known as the Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule.

2. Looking for Loans – Financial Hardship

If their finances are depleted from a losing streak, compulsive gamblers seek funding elsewhere. Many walk into banks to borrow dough in big equity loans, lines of credit, and second mortgages. Or they take out cash advances on their credit cards. It’s common for addicted gamblers to make an excuse for high-interest lending because they’ll strike gold next game. However, once the borrowed money runs dry, addicts can take even riskier chances to fuel their habit. Compulsive gambling might lead the individual into the predatory path of a violent loan shark.

A compulsive gambler will also tend to gamble so much that it puts them into some form of financial crisis. Maybe they can’t pay their rent. Or their lights get shut off, or their car get repossessed. When gambling, whether betting on sports or taking risks in the stock market, lead to a financial hardship – that is a red flag.

3. Bluffing About Bets

No, this isn’t about having a good poker face. Compulsive gamblers usually bluff about the high-dollar bets they’re making. Lying and hiding gambling activities like dirty secrets is a worrying symptom. Gambling is intended to be social entertainment engaged in with others. Schemes to cover up new wagers signal that the person’s gambling has intensified. For instance, the person may lie about going to work or shopping when they’re really at the casino. Watch out for these blatant falsehoods.

4. Developing Depression

Gambling away money the person can’t afford also causes emotional strife. Mentally coping with an overwhelming gambling obsession is tough. Addicted gamblers can feel shame, guilt, and anger. Low income families, who struggle to pay the bills, often have a higher propensity for stress, anxiety and depression to begin with, and gambling addictions just make it worse.

Fast mood swings from happy to sad, similar to manic depression, are common. In fact, a study from “The Need for a National Policy on Problem and Pathological Gambling in America” shows that 20% of pathological gamblers attempt suicide.

Depression has many physical symptoms beyond crying and looking glum. You might notice signs of digestive upset, weight changes, excessive fatigue, pale skin, and dark under-eye circles. In extreme cases, compulsive gamblers feeling hopeless may talk about or attempt suicide too.

5. Weaning to Withdrawal

As with other addictions, compulsive gambling can’t simply be stopped cold turkey. Individuals can’t suddenly walk away without the harsh experience of withdrawal. You’ll usually notice heightened symptoms when addicted gamblers aren’t feeding the habit. In withdrawal, feelings of extreme anxiety and depression are likely. The person might sweat profusely, shake, vomit, or experience heart palpitations. Gamblers in withdrawal may stay up late pacing the house when insomnia strikes. Powerful cravings to gamble often derail people’s hopes of quitting to begin the withdrawal cycle anew.

6. Pilfering Pockets

In desperation, compulsive gamblers could resort to stealing money to play with. Addicts might turn to thievery, especially if they’re cut off from funds. Many begin sneaking dollar bills out of their relative’s wallets and purses. Some break into and wipe out their family’s safe. Others lift luxurious valuables to sell for cash at pawn shops. Left untreated, compulsive gambling could lead to shoplifting, home burglaries, and bank robberies. The risk of getting caught by law enforcement won’t always negate their need.

7. Endangering Earnings

The major symptom of addiction is gambling without impulse control. Compulsive gamblers lose the restraint to walk away while they’re ahead. They’ll carry on at the blackjack table or slot machines without a care for the consequences. The risk of financial ruin doesn’t outweigh the strong urge to gamble. Too many compulsive gamblers, especially when they are low income, want to keep wagering as they think they can win more money and maybe “start a better life”, at least when it comes to their finances.

Addicted gamblers can place their entire salary at stake and then some. Maxed out credit cards and overdue bills are big red flags if the person’s income hasn’t changed.

8. Skipping Self-Care

When an individual gets addicted to gambling, other matters can cease to exist. Gambling takes control of the front seat and drives their life, steering them toward more thrills. In effect, basic hygiene becomes trivial and self-care gets shoved into the trunk. Compulsive gamblers could forget to shower or bathe for days on end. Some stay at casinos from sunup to sundown and neglect changing into clean clothes. Many overlook brushing their teeth, which can lead to bad breath and rotting cavities. Addicted gamblers might also gain noticeable weight from a poor diet and overdrinking.

9. Retracting Relationships

Compulsive gamblers in denial of their addiction won’t take kindly to being questioned. To hide gambling secrets, addicts draw back from relationships they once held dear. Most start alienating themselves from friends and family who are concerned for their well-being. Addicted gamblers focus their entire energy on games and wagers. Constant casino trips leave little time for maintaining relationships. Gambling will likely replace family gatherings and events for healthy social interaction. You might notice the person’s group of friends changes to embrace other gamblers as well.

10. Jeopardizing a Job

Working for a steady paycheck to have enough gambling resources seems sound. Addictions are anything but logical though. An individual’s sense of career responsibility could be overshadowed by the urge to gamble. Compulsive gamblers can be regularly absent from their shifts, and with many families living paycheck to paycheck missing any work can lead to a hardship – not to mention losing money on gambling.

Using up sick time and vacation days to gamble is common. Gambling becomes more important than work, so their productivity tanks, much to their boss’s dismay. Addicted gamblers may find themselves demoted or fired. Unemployment might then escalate the gambling problem, causing nerve-racking risk-tasking.

Have you observed any of these 10 symptoms of compulsive gambling in someone you love? Perhaps you’ve even noticed these problematic gambling behaviors in yourself. If so, taking immediate action is critical. Try the National Council on Problem Gambling for help.

Untreated gambling addiction can spiral out of control to extreme emotional, physical, and financial risks. Many low income families, who are desperate for money, turn to gambling for the hope of making a windfall, yet it is a losing proposition. The situation is often as dire as dangerous drug addictions. Please seek compulsive gambling treatment solutions at a mental health facility today.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.