It’s time to talk about problem gambling.

Gambling takes many forms, and many people don’t even realize they’re gambling. What seems like a harmless pastime for some can cause serious problems for others.

Know the signs.

Problem gambling isn’t always obvious. And messages can be mixed.

Understanding what gambling is, and what problem gambling looks like, is the first step.

When you think of gambling, you might picture a night out at a casino with slot machines or card games, or maybe buying some scratch tickets. But many other activities are considered gambling, too. Gambling means you risk something valuable – usually money – on something involving chance, like the outcome of a game. People hope to get something valuable in return, like more money – but often, they lose. Here are some gambling activities:

  • Casino games, like slot machines, table, or card games
  • Lottery or scratch tickets
  • Sports betting, including online fantasy sports betting
  • Online and mobile games
  • Bingo
  • Horse or dog race betting
  • Raffles

A lot of people can gamble from time to time or casually without having any problems, but some people do experience harm caused by gambling. Gambling that harms people is called problem gambling, and it’s a mental health condition that deserves support and treatment. It can be hard to know when gambling has become a problem, but there are signs that can help you understand what it looks like:

  • Needing to gamble with more money to keep gambling exciting
  • Feeling irritated or restless when trying to cut back on gambling
  • Trying to cut back or stop gambling, but not being able to
  • Thinking about gambling a lot
  • Gambling when you’re upset
  • Chasing losses (gambling more to win back money after losing)
  • Trying to hide gambling by lying
  • Having problems with relationships, work, or school because of gambling
  • Needing to borrow money as a result of gambling losses

Some people might experience just a few of these signs. And how serious these signs might be is different for everyone.

If you recognize some of these signs in yourself or want to think more about your gambling, take the problem gambling screener. If you care about someone who might have some of these signs, learn how you can support them and yourself.

People might think of money problems when they think of problem gambling. Those experiencing problem gambling may end up short on cash even with regular income. They may need to take money from savings accounts or other funds, and may fall behind with their bills. Some may need to borrow money or pawn items to quickly make money.

Problem gambling can also cause trouble in personal and work relationships. A person experiencing problem gambling might feel ashamed and try to hide their gambling and related problems from loved ones. Or they might miss work or school to gamble.

Anyone can experience problem gambling, but some people might have a higher risk than others.

A serious risk factor for problem gambling is having a substance use disorder. If you are worried that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol or drugs, help is available at the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline. You can talk to a trained Helpline Specialist on the phone by calling 800•327•5050 or by chatting with them online.

Besides substance use disorders, there are other risk factors for problem gambling:

  • Other mental health disorders: People with disorders like anxiety or depression are more likely to experience problem gambling
  • Gender: Men are more likely to experience problem gambling
  • Family history: People who have family members who experience problem gambling are more at risk of experiencing it themselves
  • Cultural influence: People who come from cultures where gambling is common are more likely to experience problem gambling.

Harmful gambling behavior can cause real problems, so it’s important to know that there is help available, and that the problem can be treated. Here are some ways you can get started on problem gambling recovery:

If you know what kind of help you’re looking for, search for services.


Number of adult residents in MA who are at-risk gamblers.*

The risk is greater for some people.

Men with a history of substance use, teens, and older adults may face a higher risk of experiencing problem gambling.

*Volberg et al, 2017

We’re here for you.

You’re not alone. The MA Problem Gambling Helpline can help.

We’re here to help you understand the risks and signs of problem gambling, and offer treatment and other resources to help you or your loved one start on the path to recovery. Our Helpline Specialists are just a call or a chat away.