Module 5 - Gambling as an addiction

Addiction can be described as a chronic health condition that occurs when someone is unable to stop consuming a drug or activity, even if it is causing physical or psychological harm, or affecting their life.

It is defined as a…

State of periodic or chronic intoxication detrimental to the individual and society, which is characterised by an overwhelming desire to continue taking the drug and to obtain it by any means.

Accordingly, addiction is characterised as compulsive, at times uncontrollable, drug craving, seeking and use that persists even in the face of extremely negative consequences.

(Drugs and Society; Hanson, Glen R., Venturelli, Peter J., & Fleckenstein, Annette E., 12th Edition)


Gambling is an addiction, not a choice. The same chemicals that keep people addicted to drugs and alcohol also keep people gambling.

In the videos below, we will explore exactly how people experience gambling harm.

Ex-AFL player Brent Guerra opens up about his struggles with gambling

The most important thing when preventing gambling harm is to listen to the individual – so we’ll now take a look at how gambling affected ex-AFL player Brent Guerra.


In this video we see the highs and lows of addiction, as described in the context of a Kiwi tasting a delicious golden nugget.

We watch as the kiwi gets less enjoyment out of each nugget (similar to the reduced levels of dopamine people experience from gambling over time) which leads the kiwi to “chase the high” more.

How do we know when people are experiencing gambling harm?

Early Warning Signs
  • Missing work or having trouble concentrating at work
  • Increasing levels of debt
  • Struggling to pay bills on time
  • Lying to friends and family
  • Prioritising spending time and money on gambling over other activities
  • Feeling moody, irritable or angry
  • Unable to pay for small luxuries.
Serious Warning Signs
  • Financial harm – unable to pay for essentials
  • Criminal activity – stealing or fraud
  • Declining mental health – depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts
  • Relationship disruption, conflict or breakdown
  • Reduced performance at work or study
  • Cultural harm – disengaging from cultural activities
  • Declining physical health.

How to recognise gambling harm and people at risk

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) lists the following as the nine most common symptoms of gambling:
  • Spending more and more
  • Restlessness, anxiety and/or irritability
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit
  • Continuous thoughts of gambling
  • Frequent negative mental and emotional states
  • Gambling the next day after a loss (Chasing the win)
  • Not telling the truth about where they are when gambling
  • Damaged relationships
  • Constant requests for money.


Behavioural Signs
  • Not telling the truth
  • Chasing losses (the next big win)
  • Borrowing money
  • Always betting more (more time gambling, higher bets etc.)
  • Being unable to, or feeling unable to, stop gambling
  • Stealing or committing crimes to fund gambling
  • Seeing gambling as “the most important thing, or only thing, in the world”.

Risks associated with gambling

Gambling increases the chances of encountering other life issues
  • 96% percent of lifetime people experiencing gambling stress also had one or more criteria for other mental health issues
  • 75% percent of those identified as being in gambling stress also had a co-occurring alcohol use issue
  • 40% percent of those identified as being in gambling stress also had a co-occurring drug use issue
  • Data suggests more people will seek help for a drug use issue before they will seek treatment for gambling related harm