Playing the stock market can build wealth. It can also be financially and psychologically destructive. Obsessive stock pickers share many of the same traits as problem gamblers, but the notion that stock market gambling is the most accepted form of gambling hides the problem, according to people who have studied the matter.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said people who have let stock picking and gambling spiral into a disease are seeking the same thing––a continuous jolt they are loath to give up.

In a pamphlet entitled “The Stock Market, Retirement Accounts and Gamblers Anonymous,” the self-help group Gamblers Anonymous says total abstinence is essential. “Turning over control of … investments to a spouse, relative or professional financial planner is an important step towards recovery,” the group writes. “The more distance there is between the investments and the compulsive gambler, the stronger [the] recovery will be.”

San Francisco clinical psychologist Paul Good developed 11 warning signs that may reveal whether an investor is actually a gambler in disguise. Anyone who exhibits five or more of these signs may have a gambling problem:

• High-volume trading where the “action” has become more compelling than the objective of the trade.
• Preoccupation with one’s investments in the form of excessive studying of investment newspapers or Web sites, thoughts about the market that interfere with work or social life, or constant calls to the broker.
 • Needing to increase the amount of money in the market or “leveraging” one’s investments to feel excited, such as by using options or future contracts or borrowing on margin.
 • Repeated unsuccessful efforts to stop or control one’s market activity (e.g., drawing on accounts previously declared off limits or contradicting or changing limit orders on losses or gains).
• Restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop market activity, or when cash is accruing in one’s account.
• Involvement in market activity to escape problems, relieve depression or distract oneself from painful emotions.
• After taking losses in the market, continuing to take positions or increasing a position as a way to break even.
• Lying to family members and friends to conceal the extent of involvement in the market.
• Committing illegal acts––such as forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement––to finance market activity.
• Jeopardizing significant relationships, one’s job, or educational or career opportunities because of excessive involvement in the market.
• Relying on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling in the markets.

Dr. Carlos Blanco, a psychiatrist who heads up the Gambling Disorders Clinic at Columbia University, which sees a lot of Wall Street patients, says one difference between obsessive investors and chronic gamblers is the age in which the disease is most prevalent. Pathological gamblers are typically in their late teens and early 20s while people who play the stock market to destructive excess are commonly in their 30s and 40s.

Notwithstanding efforts from the aforementioned individuals and organizations, the link between investing and gambling addiction hasn’t received a lot of attention. Blanco says the likely reason for the paucity of research on this topic is that the number of people suffering from the disease is so small that the National Institutes of Health has offered few grants to study it.