Compulsive Gambling


Compulsive gambling is the inability to resist the urge to gamble despite negative consequences. People with a compulsive gambling problem may lie to hide their problem and sometimes steal from others to support the addiction. When the condition becomes so severe that it affects others, it is called pathological gambling. Compulsive gambling can cause significant damage to relationships, work, and daily life if it is not treated.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Most people gamble socially without developing a problem, but for many the urge to gamble becomes more frequent over time. Signs of compulsive gambling include getting a thrill from taking big risks and taking increasingly larger gambling risks, a preoccupation with gambling, hiding gambling from others, and taking time from work or family to gamble. Compulsive gamblers often use gambling as a way to deal with problems and may feel guilty after gambling episodes, but they will still borrow or steal money to feed their gambling impulses. Compulsive gamblers are often preoccupied with gambling to recover their losses. Compulsive gambling can have long-term consequences on relationships, finances, and work life and often leads to substance abuse problems.

Compulsive gambling usually begins in young adulthood and is more common in men than women.Mental health professionals use criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose compulsive (pathological) gambling. To be diagnosed as a pathological gambler, someone must meet at least four of the following criteria: preoccupation with gambling; needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money; trying unsuccessfully to cut back on gambling; restlessness or irritability when trying to quit gambling; gambling as a way to escape problems; trying to recoup losses by gambling more; lying to others to hide gambling; jeopardizing relationships, work, or school; and borrowing money from others to gamble. Since compulsive gambling can be a sign of bipolar disorder, doctors should rule it out before making a diagnosis.


It is not known what causes some people to gamble compulsively, although it is believed that a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors increase the chances of someone developing a serious gambling problem. Compulsive gambling is more likely in people with parents who had a gambling problem. People with certain personality characteristics, such as competitiveness and restlessness, may also be more prone to compulsive gambling. Having other behavior or mood disorders, such as substance abuse problems or depression, can also be a risk factor. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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