Seven signs you may need help for gambling

Betting on games of chance or ‘taking a flutter on the horses’ is harmless fun for most people, but it is important to be aware of the warning signs that could indicate a gambling use disorder, according to a psychiatrist.

Dr Mike West, who practises at Akeso Milnerton, says that when people lose control over their gambling habits, it can be as addictive and destructive as using drugs.

Akeso is a group of private in-patient mental health facilities, and is part of the Netcare Group.

“It is important to note that the vast majority of people who gamble do so for fun. Those who develop a gambling compulsion may be unable to acknowledge when they have lost control of their habit, which is often fuelled by the vain hope of a ‘big win’ to resolve gambling debts or to try and win back money that was meant for other obligations such as a home loan but was instead spent on gambling,” Dr West notes.

“There seems to be a prevailing false belief that gambling addiction is not ‘real’ or serious enough to warrant intervention, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Uncontrolled gambling use disorder can have devastating consequences for individuals and families, however, professional help is available and it is never too soon or too late to reach out,” he notes.

“For people who gamble regularly, it is advisable to reflect honestly on your relationship with this pastime, and it may be helpful to consider this in light of the following seven questions, which identify potential warning signs of a gambling use disorder.

  1. Do you conceal the extent of your gambling?
  2. Do you gamble to escape from life’s problems?
  3. Are you making increasingly larger bets, either in an attempt to make up for losses or for a thrill?
  4. When you aren’t gambling, do you feel irritable or depressed?
  5. Do you ‘crave’ gambling or spend a lot of time thinking about gambling?
  6. Have you had difficulties in the workplace because of gambling?
  7. Is your gambling negatively affecting your interpersonal relationships with family or friends?

“If these questions resonate with your experience, I would recommend an in-depth assessment for gambling use disorder so that if there is a concern, it can be addressed. It is most important to note that there is no judgement in the process of assessment or treatment of mental health conditions, including gambling use disorder.

“Once an individual develops an addiction to gambling, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to refrain from this addictive behaviour without professional support. The features of gambling use disorder are almost identical to those of a drug addiction. Even though it is no longer fun, and in spite of numerous psychosocial problems related to their addiction, people in this position will not – or cannot – stop themselves from gambling,” he explains.

According to Dr West, the National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP) offers an online self-assessment and a free service to assist individuals and families grappling with gambling use disorder. The National Responsible Gambling Programme can be reached on 0800 006 008, or for more information about the free support programme please visit

“Therapy for gambling use disorder may involve counselling, psychotherapy and medication, if necessary. Although it may not be easy to break free from gambling use disorder, it is achievable particularly with support from experienced mental health professionals.”

“People who are problem gamblers are more likely to present with other mental health difficulties or with substance dependence, than for gambling use disorder itself. Often the gambling problem is only uncovered during the consultations for another condition, however we would like to encourage anyone who is concerned about their gambling to seek help in addressing it as soon as possible.

“There is no point in chasing yesterday’s losses because in a game of chance there are no winners in the long run – only those who lose less,” Dr West concludes.


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