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Compulsive Gambling

(Gambling Addiction; Pathological Gambling)

Definition

Compulsive gambling is an overwhelming urge to gamble. People with this disorder are addicted to gambling. It can cause serious problems in their lives.

Causes

The cause of compulsive gambling is not known. Genes may play a role.

Gambling addiction causes changes in the brain. These brain changes are like those that occur in people who are addicted to drugs.

Risk Factors

Compulsive gambling is more common in males. Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family history of gambling problems
  • Mood disorders and personality disorders
  • Drug abuse or gambling at a young age
  • Certain traits such as being competitive, restless, and easily bored

Symptoms

Symptoms of compulsive gambling may be:

  • Gambling longer than intended
  • Using work or family life to gamble
  • Feeling guilty after gambling
  • Lying to hide gambling
  • Problems sleeping—due to thoughts about gambling
  • Having money problems due to gambling
  • Trying to quit gambling but not being able to
  • Feeling depressed or suicidal due to gambling

Diagnosis

You may be referred to a mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about your:

  • Symptoms
  • Health and mental health history

Treatment

The goal is to stop gambling. Underlying mental health conditions may also need treatment. Options may be:

  • Counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Antidepressants
    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
    • Mood stabilizers
    • Opioid antagonists

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. People with impulse control problems are most at risk. They should avoid gambling.

RESOURCES:

Mental Health America
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

National Council on Problem Gambling
http://www.ncpgambling.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://cmha.ca

Canada Safety Council
https://canadasafetycouncil.org/

REFERENCES:

Gambling problem signs. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at: https://macgh.org/resources/signs-of-a-gambling-problem/ . Accessed March 9, 2021.

Ioannidis K, Hook R, et al. Impulsivity in gambling disorder and problem gambling: a meta-analysis. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(8):1354-1361.

Overview of cluster B personality disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/overview-of-cluster-b-personality-disorders. Accessed March 9, 2021.

10 questions about gambling behavior. Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado website. Available at: http://www.problemgamblingcolorado.org/content/10-questions. Accessed March 9, 2021.

Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 3/9/2021