The Burden of Betting: The Undeniable Risks of Problem Gambling and Suicidal Tendencies 

Problem gambling refers to betting that has a significantly negative impact on your life (or the life of your loved one), with consequences so severe that you want to stop—but struggle to make a change. 

When gambling takes control of your life, it’s common to feel ashamed, guilty, and overwhelmed by debt. But these aren’t the only consequences of getting caught up in sports betting, slots, or other forms of gambling. There is no addiction more likely to trigger suicidal thoughts and actions than heavy gambling.

Problem gambling isn’t just bad for your budget and relationships—it takes a toll on your mental health.

Between 17% and 39% of those who struggle with problem gambling admit to having suicidal thoughts. And even more sobering, between 2% and 57% of those who gamble problematically report having attempted suicide.

Research suggests that the greater your gambling debt becomes, the greater your risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. In studies around the world—from Australia, to East Africa, to India—heavy gambling, significant losses, and growing debt are some of the biggest reasons why those who gamble may consider or commit suicide. Because for many of these bettors, significant debt can make suicide feel like the only option. But no matter how great your debt, or how tight of a hold gambling has on your life, it isn’t.

For those who gamble excessively, as the severity of their gambling-related problems increases, so does their risk of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. And that’s the real danger in giving gambling control over your life—instead of asking for help, and finding a way forward.

Here at the Nebraska Problem Gamblers Assistance Program, we prioritize the safety and mental health of every client we work with.

A full 41.7% of the clients we’ve worked with have experienced suicidal thoughts. And over 6% of our clients have attempted to act on those thoughts. 

When you compare that statistic to the total population of Nebraska—where from 2015–2019, an average of 4.4% of adults had suicidal thoughts and less than 1% acted on them—you can see how seriously gambling can impact your mental health.

For clients who call ‌our free helpline, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and intentions is even higher. We receive an average of six urgent helpline calls per month, and 13% of these clients are considering suicide.

The overwhelming debt, isolating shame and guilt, and relational conflicts that follow problem gambling are devastating. That’s why at the first sign of excessive gambling—in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to reach out to the NPGAP for help.

If you know someone struggling with gambling, early detection is key to saving their mental health—and maybe even their life.

Substance-based addictions, like drug addictions and alcoholism, often reveal themselves through physical symptoms. But problem gambling can be more difficult to detect in your spouse, friend, or family member. That’s because it doesn’t impact their health in an obvious way. You can’t see or smell a gambling habit, and it leaves little trace—unless you know where to look.

These early warning signs are often the first indication of a deeper gambling problem:

  • Over-emphasizing their wins, and ignoring or avoiding discussing losses

  • Gambling away money needed for groceries, rent, and daily necessities

  • Borrowing money from friends and family to cover losses or gamble more

  • Constant distraction, leading to trouble at work or at home

  • Agitation when they’re not gambling, and a fixation on finding the next gambling opportunity

If you suspect someone you care about may be struggling with gambling, and at risk of gambling-related suicidal thoughts or actions, reach out to the Nebraska Problem Gamblers Assistance Program right away. 

You don’t have to face problem gambling alone—the Nebraska Problem Gamblers Assistance Program offers free help for Nebraskans and family members.

Here at the NPGAP, any Nebraskan can receive the proactive support and helpful resources they need—for you or someone you care about. 

When you call 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or text 402-806-7344, you’ll connect with Helpline Specialist Justin Antons (MA, LIMHP, LADC, CDGC). He’s helped hundreds of NPGAP clients find the free, confidential support they need to move forward. And he’s here for you, too.

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