Compulsive gambling is an impulse control disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to gamble. In compulsive gambling, your life becomes dominated by gambling. This can lead to problems with finances, career, and relationships. Compulsive gambling can be treated. Talk with your doctor if you think you have a problem.
It is not clear what causes compulsive gambling. But there is some evidence that there may be a genetic component.
Research has also show that people who have a gambling addiction experience changes in their brain. These brain changes are like those that occur in people who are addicted to drugs.
Factors that may increase the risk of compulsive gambling include:
Symptoms of compulsive gambling may include:
Your doctor may refer you to mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about your:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Counseling for compulsive gambling may include cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can help you learn to correct the the negative thoughts and beliefs that lead you to gamble, find healthier responses to stress, develop social skills, and prevent relapse. Therapy can also help uncover what lead you to compulsively gamble.
There is some evidence that people who compulsively gamble may benefit from medicines, such as:
There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. But if you have a problem with impulse control, avoiding situations where there is gambling may prevent you from developing a problem.
Mental Health America
National Council on Problem Gambling
Canadian Mental Health Association
10 questions about gambling behavior. National Council on Problem Gambling website. Available at: http://www.ncpgambling.org/i4a/pages/Index.cfm?pageID=3439 . Accessed August 27, 2012.
Black DW, Monahan PO, Temkit M, et al. A family study of pathological gambling. Psychiatry Res . 2006;141:295-303.
Dannon PN, Lowengrub K, Gonopolski Y, Musin E, Kotler M. Pathological gambling: a review of phenomenological models and treatment modalities for an underrecognized psychiatric disorder. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry . 2006;8:334-339.
Kalechstein AD, et al. Pathological gamblers demonstrate frontal lobe impairment consistent with that of methamphetamine dependent individuals. J Neuropsych Clin Neurosci. 2007;19:298-303.
Signs of problem gambling. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at: http://www.masscompulsivegambling.org/paths/what_signs.php . Accessed August 27, 2012.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 03/15/2013