Addiction to Bets: Symptoms, Causes and Characteristics

The gambling addiction is one of the most prevalent types of behavioral addiction in our society. This alteration refers to the development of a high dependence on the game of chance.

People who suffer from this psychopathology begin to do betting activities in an impulsive, uncontrolled and excessive way.

Gambling Addiction Symptoms

In fact, they require the performance of these behaviors to experience gratification. Likewise, when they do not bet they can develop a series of annoying and unpleasant symptoms as a result of their addiction.

Addiction to Bets



In this sense, addiction to bets shares many characteristics with drug addictions. Although these first do not report physical damage directly, they can end up being highly harmful both to the physical state and especially to the psychological state of the person.

Because betting is a phenomenon that is increasingly present in society, and cases of gambling addiction are constantly growing, the literature and data about this disorder are quite abundant at present.

The objective of this article is to review the main characteristics of addiction to betting. Explain your symptoms, and their causes, as well as provide a detailed and clarifying explanation of the mental disorder.

Characteristics of gambling addiction

The addiction to bets is included in the known addictions to the game or pathological game. These are the most characteristic of non-toxic addictions and carry a series of highly serious consequences.

The addiction to betting can lead the person to lose large amounts of money, becoming ruined economically, both himself and his family and / or friends.

When betting addiction develops, the whole life of the individual revolves around the game. Generating a tragic spiral from which it is very difficult to leave.

Focusing attention on the aspects of betting, various studies have connoted that these activities have a series of characteristics that distinguish them from other types of recreational activities and that, to some extent, explain their addictive potential. The main ones are:

  1. The bets are random. The result does not depend directly on strategies or skills of the player. The bets are not controllable although the player may perceive that they are, which can lead to the misuse of these.
  1. It is based on the laws of probability. Bets are not only controllable facts but also often unpredictable.
  1. It is played by money. This aspect is especially important in the addiction to betting since the success or failure in these entails the gain or loss of money. Money is one of the main external reinforcers that people have, so it can produce an excess of motivation and uncontrolled use.
  1. They have a collection purpose. Most betting houses are businesses whose main objective is to make money. In this sense, the widespread success of people who participate in betting is practically impossible.

Similarities and differences with substance addictions

The addictive mechanisms of addiction to bets are highly similar to those developed in drug addiction. In this sense, although in this case there is no substance consumed, the addictive potential of bets can be very high.

However, gambling addiction also presents a series of differences with regard to addictions to substances.

To determine in a specific way the characteristics of this type of addiction, the similarities and differences with drug addictions are discussed below.


The addiction to betting involves psychological processes similar to drug addictions. From this point of view, it is concluded that both alterations constitute similar problems. The main similarities between both disorders are:

a) Similar sequence

Both addictions to substances and addiction to bets manifest a similar behavioral pattern. This is characterized by:

  1. Impulse to repeat a maladaptive or pernicious behavior.
  2. Accumulation of tension until the desired behavior is completed.
  3. Rapid, but temporary, relief of tension.
  4. Gradual return to the impulse after performing the desired behavior.

b) Consolidation process

Addictions produce patterns of behavior firmly consolidated, stereotyped and resistant to change and extinction. For this reason, both addiction to gambling and drug addiction contain learning and conditioning processes.

These processes determine the basis of the behaviors and are the elements responsible for maintaining the addictive habit in a consistent and stable manner.

The main characteristics of the process of consolidation of addictions are:

  1. Initial effects In the first moments, the individual executes the addictive behavior to achieve a goal that he or she desires. These elements do not have to constitute pleasant aspects, since in the case of the consumption of substances the first experiences can be aversive.
  2. Subsequently, two learning processes appear: habituation and reinforcement. The first accustoms the organism to stimuli and the second motivates an increase in its gratification. These aspects appear both the addiction to the bets and in the addiction to the substances.
  3. Control by external and internal keys. When the addictive behavior is repeated in similar circumstances the person associates a series of stimuli with the performance of the activity. This fact motivates a greater frequency of addiction behaviors.
  4. Tolerance and abstinence appear in every type of addiction. Tolerance makes the gratification of the addictive element less and less. Abstinence, on the other hand, motivates the appearance of discomfort when the addictive behavior is not carried out.
  5. The addictions produce a remarkable reduction of other adaptive behaviors. The addictive processes involve a high expenditure of both psychological resources and time, a fact that motivates a change in the normal functioning of the individual.
  6. Finally, as an effect of the previous point, addictions usually affect the people surrounding the addict individual. Deteriorating the quality of the relationships of this both in the family environment and in the social or work environment.


Although the addiction to betting and drug addiction share important elements, they also present a series of differences. The most important differentiating aspects are:

  1. In addiction to betting there is no chemical substance responsible for the addiction. The addiction to betting differs from drug addiction mainly because there is no substance that generates harmful effects in the body.
  2. Likewise, drug addictions are characterized by frequent occurrence of polytoxicomania. That is, the fact of being addicted to a substance causes a greater risk of developing addiction to another. These aspects are not usually observed in addiction to betting.

Psychological variables involved in gambling addiction

The bets are playful activities, which usually generate sensations hedonically pleasurable. In some cases, the betting activity produces intrinsic motivations in which the main bonus is the execution of the bet.

However, bets have a high capacity to generate extrinsic reinforcements (earn money), which can be much more intense than the intrinsic ones.

In this way, the appearance of an uncontrollable gratification, such as the gain of money through chance, is one of the main factors that motivates the appearance of addiction.

In this sense, the main variables that increase addiction to betting are:


Nowadays, placing bets is a very simple task. In fact, you can do this activity without leaving home and with the simple use of a computer, a tablet or a mobile phone.

Accessibility is one of the main variables that favor the beginning of any addiction, and therefore, also in addiction to betting.

Low cost

To start betting games, it is usually not necessary to invest large amounts of money. In fact, in most bookmakers it is worth to enter between 10 or 20 euros to start playing.

This fact further facilitates the use of betting platforms and the initiation of betting behavior. In this sense, people do not have to make any effort to start developing a behavior that can become addictive.

Immediate reward

The bets have the characteristic of being able to provide gratification quickly and immediately. In fact, the person who bets can earn money minutes after doing it, a fact that implies the presence of a powerful and immediate gratification.

Partial reinforcement

Obviously, however lucky you may be, you do not always win bets. In this sense, the behavior of the addict is governed by positive reinforcements (earn money) and negative reinforcements (lose money).

Thus, bets motivate highly uncontrollable behavior. That is, the player does not know how many times he will have to bet to receive a reward, so he will do it continuously in search of something that can not predict when it will happen.

Illusion of control

Bets can easily generate the illusion of control and other cognitive biases. The individual bets on what he believes will happen, so he can develop a type of thinking governed by his ability to predict based on his previous knowledge.

For example, a person who knows a lot about football and knows the current affairs of each team can develop control thoughts when betting on games.

However, these elements will never predict the final result, since there will always be a part of chance that the subject omits due to their beliefs.

Diagnostic criteria

At present, the addiction disorder is not included in the diagnosis manuals. However, there are investigations that postulate the most important criteria for the detection of this psychopathology. The most important are:

  • Worry about bets
  • Need to bet increasing amounts of money to get the desired pleasure.
  • Failure in attempts to stop betting.
  • Restlessness or irritability when you try to interrupt the bet.
  • Bet as a strategy to reduce dysphoria.
  • Bet as a strategy to compensate losses of the bet itself.
  • Family members and therapist are deceived about the degree of involvement in the bets.
  • Illegal acts are committed to finance the bets.
  • They risk and lose personal relationships, professional and educational opportunities because of the bets.
  • It is hoped that others will alleviate the economic situation caused by the losses.

Causes of addiction

Research indicates that there is no single cause that causes addiction to betting. Rather, there are a number of factors that can participate in its development. The elements that can motivate the appearance of addiction to bets are:

Game culture

Depending on the acceptance and social normalization that is connote on the bets in the context of the individual, this will be more or less likely to develop addiction.

Generally, in regions where bets are accepted there is a greater risk that its inhabitants will develop this type of behavioral addiction. 

Materialistic values

Materialism plays an important role in the development of addiction to betting. The people who attach a lot of value to these elements are more vulnerable to addiction.

Also Read: Addiction to Women: Symptoms, Characteristics and Treatments

In these cases, the reward produced by the bets is perceived with greater intensity and as more important in the life of the subject.

Vicarial learning

The visualization of people betting and, above all, receiving a reward when performing these behaviors, directly conditions the perception of betting.

In this sense, advertising increases the risk of developing addiction because it provides stimuli that indicate the gratification of bets.