While problem gambling does not manifest itself in biological highs, as seen in drug addiction, the signs often become apparent over time in all different areas of a person's life. Behaviorally, individuals with a gambling addiction often undergo marked changes in lifestyle, such as ignoring social obligations or losing interest in things they previously enjoyed. These individuals may become emotionally depressed or unstable, and this can sometimes be accompanied by health-related problems such as insomnia or loss of appetite. Problem gambling most often comes to affect a person's financial stability as well, as individuals who struggle with gambling will often spend money they do not have feeding the addiction. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) has its own list of specific characteristics that may be signs of problem gambling.
Individuals with a gambling problem will often exhibit a change in their eating, sleeping, or sexual patterns, usually centered around their gambling habit. They may ignore work or family events and obligations, be gone for long periods of time, and may neglect themselves in terms of health and hygiene. These individuals will gamble alone more frequently and will often find themselves gambling more than they intend to. This is sometimes accompanied by an exaggerated view of their gambling success, in which they downplay their losses or lie to cover them up. In many instances, problem gambling is present alongside a drug or alcohol problem as well.
Emotionally, individuals who struggle with gambling addiction may become distant and irritable in front of family and friends, and they often end up jeopardizing these close relationships as a result. Some may be gambling as a means of proving themselves, exaggerating their ability to win, while others gamble as a means of escaping from other stresses or frustrations. More often than not, problem gambling is associated with extremely low self-esteem, and individuals who struggle with this may also be depressed or suicidal. On the biological end, gambling addiction may also lead to headaches, stomach problems, or a loss of interest in sleeping and eating.
Over time, problem gambling almost always manifests itself financially. Individuals with this addiction often cannot help but gamble away all of their money, and as a result, they borrow money excessively from friends or family that they cannot pay back. They may take up another job, start to cash out savings accounts or insurance plans, and discretely sell off family valuables in order to fund their gambling habit. Those associated with the individual may notice that he or she alternates between being in extreme debt and flashing or boasting about money, perhaps after a large winning.
The DSM-IV lists specific characteristics that may be present in a gambling addict. Similar to drug addiction, not only are these individuals usually consistently preoccupied with gambling, but they generally develop a tolerance for it and will require larger bets to satiate the habit. Gambling addicts often experience withdrawal symptoms, and as a result, will gamble to ease the discomfort. More often than not, gambling addicts will lie to family, friends, or therapists about the extent of their gambling, while, in the meantime, they are unable to control their gambling habit themselves. In extreme cases, individuals with a gambling problem may even commit illegal acts such as theft, forgery, or embezzlement in order to recover gambling money.