Gambling Addiction (Compulsive or Pathological Gambling)

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Potential Causes of a Gambling Addiction

Bipolar Disorder

In order to qualify for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a person must experience at least one manic episode. Characteristics of mania must last at least a week (unless it is part of mixed features) and include

  • elevated, expansive, or irritable mood;
  • racing thoughts;
  • pressured speech (rapid, excessive, and frenzied speaking);
  • decreased need for sleep;
  • grandiose beliefs (for example, false beliefs of superiority or failures);
  • tangential speech (repeatedly changing conversational topics to topics that are hardly related);
  • restlessness/increased goal-directed activity;
  • impulsivity, poor judgment or engaging in risky behavior (like spending sprees, promiscuity, or excess desire for sex).

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.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/1/2016

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