What is Compulsive gambling?

Compulsive gambling


Compulsive gambling Definition

A compulsive, or pathological, gambler is someone who is unable to resist his or her impulses to gamble. This leads to severe personal and, or, social consequences. The urge to gamble becomes so great that tension can only be relieved by more gambling.

There is a very fine line between problem gambling and gambling too much. The critical sign of problem gambling is often hidden from awareness, with denial. Many gamblers typically do not know they have a problem. Admitting you have a problem, or may have a problem, is the first step to recovery. Unfortunately this realization normally only surfaces when a problem gambler hits rock bottom.

Symptoms of Compulsive Gambling

The following signs and symptoms indicate compulsive gambling:

  • increasing the frequency and the amount of money gambled
  • spending the majority of free time thinking about gambling
  • spending an excessive amount of time gambling at the expense of personal or family time
  • being preoccupied with gambling or with obtaining money with which to gamble
  • feeling a sense of euphoria, an aroused sense of action or a high from gambling
  • continuing to gamble despite negative consequences such as large losses, or work or family problems caused by gambling
  • gambling as a means to cope with uncomfortable feelings
  • “chasing” or the urgent need to keep gambling, often with larger bets or the taking of greater risks in order to make up for a loss or series of losses
  • borrowing money to gamble, taking out secret loans or maximizing credit cards
  • bragging about wins but not talking about losses
  • frequent mood swings higher when winning, lower when losing
  • gambling for longer periods of time with more money than originally planned
  • lying or secretive behavior to cover up extent of gambling

Normal Gambling vs. Pathological or Compulsive Gambling

Gambling is defined as any betting or wagering for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or “skill.” Gambling is classified into four types: social, professional, problem and pathological.

Social gambling typically occurs with friends or coworkers. The gambling lasts for a limited period of time and the losses are predetermined and reasonable. In professional gambling, the risks are limited and discipline is exercised.

Problem gambling is marked by:

  • preoccupation
  • narrowing of interests
  • continued behavior despite adverse consequences
  • failed attempts to cut down

Pathological gamblers:

  • have distortions of thinking such as denial, superstitions, overconfidence or a sense of power and control
  • believe that money is the cause of and the solution to all of their problems
  • tend to be highly competitive, energetic, restless and easily bored
  • tend to be generous to the point of mania or extravagance
  • often are workaholics or binge workers who wait until the last moment before working hard

Causes of Compulsive Gambling

Exactly what causes someone to gamble compulsively isn’t well understood. Like many problems, compulsive gambling may result from a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors.

Compulsive Gambling addiction facts

  • Compulsive gambling affects 2%-3% of Americans, can involve a variety of ways and places to bet, and symptoms may differ somewhat between males and females, as well as teenagers versus adults.
  • Although men tend to develop a gambling addiction at a higher rate and at younger ages than women, women now make up more than one-quarter of all compulsive gamblers, and women’s symptoms tend to worsen faster once compulsive gambling develops.
  • As opposed to pathological gambling, problem gambling involves more than one but less than five symptoms of compulsive gambling.
  • Although direct causes of compulsive gambling are unusual, the manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder and some medications that treat Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome have been associated with the development of this disorder.
  • Risk factors for pathological gambling include schizophrenia, mood problems, antisocial personality disorder, alcohol, or cocaine addiction.
  • The diagnosis of compulsive gambling involves identifying at least five symptoms that indicate poor impulse control when it comes to gambling, as well as ruling out other potential causes of the behaviors.
  • As with any mental-health condition, accurate diagnosis of gambling addiction requires a complete physical and psychological evaluation, including a mental-status examination and appropriate laboratory tests to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms that are being observed.
  • The treatment of compulsive gambling usually uses more than one approach, including psychotherapy, medication, financial counseling, support groups, 12-step programs, and self-help techniques.
  • The prognosis of recovery from compulsive gambling is encouraging with treatment.
  • Although pathological gambling may resolve with time on its own in many individuals, the devastating effects it usually has on the person’s financial, family, legal, and mental-health status indicates that treatment should be attempted by anyone who is motivated to get help for this disorder.
  • Prevention of compulsive gambling usually involves addressing risk factors and educating the public about the warning signs of this disorder.

Treatments of Compulsive Gambling

Compulsive gambling can be treated. Treatment begins with the recognition of the problem.

Treatment options include individual and group psychotherapy, and self-help support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. This is probably the most effective treatment. It is a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Abstinence principles that apply to other types of addiction, such as substance abuse and alcohol dependence, are also relevant in the treatment of compulsive gambling behavior.

Recently, medications such as antidepressants, opioid antagonists, and mood stabilizers have been shown to be beneficial in combination with psychotherapy.

Like alcohol or drug addiction, pathological gambling is a chronic disorder that tends to get worse without treatment. Even though with treatment, it’s common to start gambling again (relapse), people with pathological gambling can do very well with the right treatment. Many people are able to gain control over their lives after undergoing treatment.

Prevention of Compulsive Gambling

Prevention is challenging and may not always be possible. Exposure to gambling may increase the risk of developing pathological gambling. Limiting exposure may be helpful for people who are at risk. Public exposure to gambling, however, continues to increase in the form of lotteries, electronic and Internet gambling, and casinos. Intervention at the earliest signs of pathological gambling may prevent the disorder from getting worse. Counseling may benefit people who are prone to compulsive gambling or other addictive behaviors. People who are aware that compulsive gambling affects close relatives might be at higher risk and should be especially careful.