ADHD and Problem Gambling

ADHD and gambling problems

Studies conducted over the last several years suggest that about 20% of problem gamblers have adult ADHD. The problem extends to college age students as well. As many as 19% college students with ADHD have a problem with gambling. It has been found that people with ADHD symptoms often start gambling at an earlier age than their peers. That can be problematic because people who start gambling at an earlier age are likely to develop more serious long-term gambling problems that can disrupt their lives. 

The level of addiction these problem gamblers have can also be higher. A study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that people diagnosed with gambling disorder who also demonstrated symptoms of ADHD are more likely to experience gambling disorder with greater severity.

While research shows that men are more likely to have a longer-lasting gambling problem, women who start gambling regularly develop a problem more quickly.

Why ADHD Can Make You More Susceptible to Problem Gambling

What is the connection between gambling and ADHD? There can be a number of factors at work, including:

  • Impulsivity
  • Seeing gambling as a way to cope with the social difficulties, emotional dysregulation, feelings of underachievement, and difficulty completing tasks.
  • Poor decision-making
  • Boredom and a need for stimulation (novelty seeking)

All of these are affected by the dopamine, reward, and motivation pathways in the ADHD brain which result in:

  • Decreased activation of the nucleus accumbens linked to rewards
  • Lower dopamine receptor availability
  • Reward deficits with failure to delay gratification, creating a preference for small immediate rewards over larger delayed rewards
  • Higher risk / vulnerability for addiction to intensify rewards

Given these considerations, it is not surprising that an individual with ADHD might be more susceptible to a gambling problem.

Recognizing the Signs of a Gambling Problem

If someone you know gambles frequently, there are behaviors that could indicate a growing problem. They could have a gambling disorder if at least four of the following have been true for within the past 12 months:

  1. A need to gamble with an increasing amount of money to get the same level of excitement.
  2. Feeling restless or irritable when he or she doesn’t gamble, or does less of it.
  3. Unable to cut back or stop gambling, even with effort.
  4. Thinks a lot about gambling, remembering good experiences and planning how to succeed at gambling in the future.
  5. Gambles to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, or guilt.
  6. Chases losses, which means gambling more after losing to try and make up for the loss.
  7. Lies about his or her gambling activity to cover it up.
  8. Has lost a job or significant opportunity or had a relationship end because of gambling.
  9. Asks other people for money to clear up financial problems that result from gambling.

Next Steps

If the answers suggest there is a gambling problem, consider seeking assistance from a professional regarding this gambling behavior by calling the National Problem Gambling HelpLine Network (800.522.4700) toll free and confidential throughout the U.S. This should be done is consultation with any clinician or therapist they are working with as part of their ADHD treatment plan.

This is a problem where going it alone almost certainly won’t work.



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