How to Tell If Your Gambling Habits Are Becoming a Problem

One of the problems with being human is that we tend to suffer from a little problem called “denial”. That is, it takes time to notice, acknowledge and admit that we have a problem. That problem could be anything, from having a poor sense of fashion to gambling away your life savings.

And it’s not even something that we’re consciously aware of. That’s the whole point of it – it’s your ego’s way of keeping you safe from something it deems threatening. It must have evolved for a reason, but, in modern life, it’s often unhelpful.

The problem with denial is that you don’t know you’re experiencing it. A part of you will know, but you won’t know know.

That means that, when it comes to gambling, you need to shine a light on your habits. You need to examine your behaviour for signs that you’re becoming a problem gambler. If you don’t look, and it turns out you do have a problem, your life can quickly go to heck in a handbasket.

Below, you’ll discover the tell-tale signs of a gambling problem. This will help you to take the first step in your journey to a healthier lifestyle: acknowledging the problem.

Click here to read our guide on what to do if you discover you have a gambling problem.

Do You Frequently Lose Control of Your Gambling?

Losing control of your gambling habits is one of the key signs that you have a problem.

The words “Losing control” give the impression that I’m referring to some big and outlandish behaviour, like tipping the poker table over in the middle of a casino or throwing your mug of tea at the wall when you lose the online slots.

But losing control is more subtle. It means, “Going beyond the limits you set yourself”. For example, if you decide you only want to spend £5 on gambling today, but you end up spending £10, or if you decide you only want to play for 1 hour, but play for 2 hours, you’re going beyond your limits.

The difference between £5 and £10 isn’t a lot, neither is 1 hour in comparison to 2 hours, but if it happens regularly, it can indicate a problem.

And, of course, if you’re breaking limits excessively, e.g., going from £5 to £50 or £500 or spending all day gambling, that is a strong sign that you have a problem. Perhaps not if it’s a one-off, but any more than that and you need to pay attention.

Some of you may not set limits on your gambling, but you should. This is how you’ll keep track of any problems. If you don’t set limits, you can’t tell if you’re going beyond them…although there is one way…

Do You Lose Track of Time?

Losing track of time when you gamble is a sign that you have a problem. If you’re spending hours gambling and don’t realise how much time has passed, you may be too absorbed in it.

But, this is dependent on the game. The strategic games, like poker, do take longer to play than the quick-hit games. If you’re losing hours on the slot machines, that’s likely to be more of an issue than losing the same amount of time at poker.

Do Other People Comment/Criticise on Your Gambling Habits?

Don’t dismiss people’s comments and criticisms as nagging. If the people around you are paying increasing attention to your gambling, you may have a problem.

The nature of the comments is important too. If the comments are about how much time or money you’re spending, it might be time to start listening.

The greater the number of people making comments, the more you must take notice.

Do You Neglect Activities or Financial Obligations to Gamble?

If you are spending money on gambling that should be going on other things, especially bills (i.e. mortgage, electricity, water), it’s a clear sign something is wrong. You need to act now to prevent it from escalating.

Likewise, if you’re giving up activities (social activities, family time, throwing sickies at work), you need to act.

Do You Chase Losses?

You should never gamble for the reason of making money. Winning is a happy side effect, not the aim of the game. To enjoy gambling without it becoming a problem, you have to enjoy the thrill of the play, not just the thrill of the win. Winning feels great, but you should be having fun the whole time. Never play to win.

Playing to win forces you to chase losses. You’ll throw good money after bad trying to recoup what you’ve just lost. Read the section on Maxwell in this article to see just how bad it can get.

Do You Borrow Money to Gamble?

This is a HUGE red flag. There’s no good reason to borrow money to fund a gambling session. It’s an extra big red flag if you’re using payday loans or other predatory lenders.

Do You Keep Secrets about Your Gambling Habits?

If you lie or fail to divulge information when you should, about your gambling habits, it indicates a problem. Again, the more secrets you keep, the worse your problem is likely to be.

Do You Regret Your Gambling Losses?

When you look back at your gambling habits, do you regret how much you spent? Was the fun you got out of gambling a justification for the money spent or do you now feel bad?

Do You Get Withdrawal Symptoms?

People often find it odd that you can get withdrawal symptoms if you have a gambling addiction. Even though there are no drugs involved, you can experience some of the classic signs of withdrawal, such as feeling restless, anxious and on edge when you can’t play.

You might snap at people around you, suffer from insomnia and lose your appetite. Negative moods, feeling bad and experiencing guilt are all signs that the habit has escalated into a problem.

Do You Think You Have a Problem?

Finally, if you think you have a problem, there’s a high chance you do. This is actually a great thing because it means you aren’t in denial, and you can move on to step 2: dealing with your gambling problem.

What Next?

The next step is to take action to manage your gambling problem if you think you have one. Click here to read our guide on what to do if you think you have a gambling problem.

You can also take’s self-assessment test to help you establish the severity of the problem.

An arty picture of the word "problem" crossed out and the word "solution" written underneath it. To represent dealing with a gambling problem

Harvey Dickenson

Safe Gambling Specialist

Harvey Dickenson is our safe gambling specialist. Harvey is a recreational poker player and an expert in online casino safety, cons, and scams.