(Gambling Addiction; Pathological Gambling)
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.
It is not clear what causes compulsive gambling. There is some evidence that there may be a genetic component.
Research has also shown 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.
Impulse control is believed to exist in this part of the brain.
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Gambling addiction is more common in males. Factors that may increase the risk of compulsive gambling include:
Symptoms of compulsive gambling may include:
- Gambling longer than you intended to
- Taking time from work or family life to gamble
- Feeling guilty after gambling
- Lying to hide gambling
- Not being able to sleep because of thoughts about gambling
Having financial problems because of gambling such as:
- Spending all of your money on gambling
- Needing to borrow money for gambling
- Trying to earn money through gambling to pay your bills
- Being involved in illegal activities to get money for gambling
- Trying to quit gambling but not being able to
- Feeling depressed or suicidal due to gambling
You may be referred to a mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about your:
- Medical history
- Mental health history
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 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 led you to compulsively gamble.
There is some evidence that people who compulsively gamble may benefit from medications, such as:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Mood stabilizers
- Opioid antagonists
There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. 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
Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario
Black DW, Monahan PO, Temkit M, Shaw M. A family study of pathological gambling. Psychiatry Res. 2006;141(3):295-303.
Dannon PN, Lowengrub K, et al. Pathological gambling: a review of phenomenological models and treatment modalities for an underrecognized psychiatric disorder. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(6):334-339.
Kalechstein AD, Fong T, Gonopolski Y, Musin E, Kotler M. Pathological gamblers demonstrate frontal lobe impairment consistent with that of methamphetamine dependent individuals. J Neuropsych Clin Neurosci. 2007;19(3):298-303.
Signs of a gambling problem. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at: https://masscompulsivegambling.org/resources/signs-of-a-gambling-problem. Accessed October 4, 2017.
10 questions about gambling behavior. Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado website. Available at: http://www.problemgamblingcolorado.org/content/10-questions. Accessed October 4, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 7/17/20