The Increasing Problem of Online Gambling

The intensity of the impulse to gamble online means often diminishes the capacity for self-control. These can lead to socioeconomic, family, and mental problems in the online gambler.
The Increasing Problem of Online Gambling
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

People who gamble online have a hard time resisting the temptation to play. The urge builds progressively and creates the kind of tension that can only be relieved by gambling repeatedly. This can lead to serious consequences, not only economic but also family and emotional.

However, it should be noted that not all online players have a gambling problem. There are also professional online gamblers. However, there are certain key characteristics that are common to those individuals whose gambling turns into an addiction.

person betting

Compulsive gambling

Gambling disorder is an addictive condition characterized by persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behaviors. These lead to significant impairment or distress. It’s thought to arise as a consequence of the interaction of certain biological, psychological, and social factors.

Research suggests that between 1.1 and 1.6 percent of the population suffer from gambling disorder. It often begins in adolescence or early adulthood and usually starts to become a problem several years later.

Individuals suffering from gambling disorder may also have other psychiatric problems. Common comorbidities include mood disorders (20-55.6 percent), substance use (35-76.3 percent), and other impulse control disorders. Suicide attempts are also common.

The diagnostic criteria of pathological gambling

The DSM-5 states that an individual suffers from this disorder if they meet four or more of the following criteria over a twelve-month period:

  • They need to bet increasing amounts of money to get the desired excitement.
  • They’re nervous or irritated when they try to cut back or quit gambling.
  • They’ve made repeated efforts to control, reduce, or quit gambling, always without success.
  • Their thoughts are often occupied with gambling.
  • They frequently gamble when they feel restless, helpless, guilty, anxious, or depressed.
  • After losing money gambling, they often come back another day to try to win.
  • They lie to hide their degree of involvement in gambling.
  • They’ve jeopardized or lost an important relationship, job, or academic career because of gambling.
  • They count on others to give them money to alleviate their dire financial situation caused by gambling.

Online gambling

Online gambling is a form of gambling carried out on online platforms. If we compare face-to-face gambling with online gambling, we see that the latter has a greater risk of becoming addictive for various reasons. For example:

  • Online platforms provide discretion and ease of access.
  • It’s extremely easy and convenient to access these types of platforms since players can access them from home.
  • When playing online, there’s little awareness of money, because it’s not physically observed.
  • Since reinforcement occurs occasionally, the behavior lasts longer, making the addiction stronger.

Over recent years, the move to online gambling has also caused a change in the profile of the pathological gambler. Before, they were usually men between 30-40 years old, whose objective was to earn money or recover what they’d lost.

However, today, online gamblers are young people between the ages of 15 and 35 who are looking for stimuli that allow them to escape reality. When it comes to women, the age of onset is later, between 35 and 40 years, but their progression toward gambling disorder is faster (Castilla et al., 2013).

The adverse consequences of online gambling

Pathological gambling has negative consequences for the individual, their family, and society. It can negatively affect individuals’ physical and mental health. Indeed, it’s been observed that there are high rates of various psychological problems among pathological gamblers.

Online gambling financially impacts an individual’s life, often resulting in large debts, poverty, and even bankruptcy. Moreover, there are people who, to finance their addiction, resort to criminal activities such as robbery and prostitution.

Pathological online gambling can also negatively affect interpersonal relationships, leading to relationship problems, abandonment of the family, and domestic violence. In fact, research has proved that children of compulsive gamblers are at increased risk of behavioral problems, depression, and substance abuse.

person betting

Interventions for online gambling

Several reviews of current literature point to psychological interventions as the most effective options for this disorder. They’re associated with significant improvements in both the short and long term (Cowlishaw et al., 2012; Rash & Petry, 2014). Here are two of them.

Motivational interviewing

This is one of the most promising options, either as the sole intervention or in combination with other techniques. Motivational interviewing empowers patients to identify and resolve their ambivalence about change. One of its key elements is normative feedback. Through it, individuals analyze their problematic gambling behavior.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

CBT is effective in treating gambling disorder. The therapy helps patients understand their cognitive distortions related to gambling behavior. It weakens the patterns of perseverance and irrational beliefs associated with the disorder.

Finally, with the profusion of games available online, the prevalence of online gambling is likely to increase in the coming years. Therefore, it’ll be necessary to develop prevention and regulation strategies that allow people to enjoy online games without engaging in addictive behaviors.

It’s also important to understand that pathological gambling is a heterogeneous condition. It develops and is maintained due to the complex interaction of biological, psychological, and social variables.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2014). Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales (5ª Ed.). Panamericana.
  • Brazeau, B. W. & Hodgins, D.C. (2022). Gambling disorder. In G. Asmundson (Ed.). Comprehensive clínica psychology (2nd Ed.).  
  • Castilla, C., Berdullas, S., Vicente, A., & Villamarín, S. (2013). Apuestas online: el nuevo desafío del juego patológico. Infocop61, 3-6.
  • Cowlishaw, S., Merkouris, S., Dowling, N., Anderson, C., Jackson, A., & Thomas, S. (2012). Psychological therapies for pathological and problem gambling. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (11).
  • George, S., & Murali, V. (2005). Pathological gambling: An overview of assessment and treatment. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment11(6), 450-456.
  • Menchon, J. M., Mestre-Bach, G., Steward, T., Fernández-Aranda, F., & Jiménez-Murcia, S. (2018). An overview of gambling disorder: from treatment approaches to risk factors. F1000Research7.
  • Psyhology Today. Gambling Disorder (Compulsive Gambling, Pathological Gambling)
  • Rash, C. J., & Petry, N. M. (2014). Psychological treatments for gambling disorder. Psychology research and behavior management7, 285.
  • Raylu, N., & Oei, T. P. (2002). Pathological gambling: A comprehensive review. Clinical psychology review22(7), 1009-1061.
  • Schreiber, L. R., Odlaug, B.L. & Grant, J.E. (2013). Medications for behavioral addictions. In P. M. Miller (Ed.). Interventions for addiction: comprehensive addictive behaviors and disorders (Vol. 3). Academic Press.
  • Sundqvist, K., & Rosendahl, I. (2019). Problem gambling and psychiatric comorbidity—risk and temporal Sequencing among women and men: Results from the Swelogs case–control study. Journal of gambling studies35(3), 757-771.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.