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.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

What are causes and risk factors for gambling addiction?

When contemplating why people gamble, it is important to understand that there is usually no one specific cause for pathological gambling. Some potential exceptions include the observation that some individuals who are given medications that treat Parkinson's disease or restless leg syndrome (including pramipexole [Mirapex]) have been observed to develop impulse-control disorders like compulsive gambling, shopping, or compulsive sexual behaviors. The theory about that connection involves the increased activity of the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain. Another example where compulsive gambling may have a single cause is in bipolar disorder since exorbitant spending, including in the form of compulsive gambling, may be a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Much more commonly, gambling addiction, like most other emotional conditions, is understood to be the result of a combination of biological vulnerabilities, ways of thinking, and social stressors (biopsychosocial model). There are, however, elements that increase the likelihood that the individual will develop a gambling addiction. Risk factors for developing pathological gambling include schizophrenia, mood problems, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol or cocaine addiction. People who suffer from compulsive gambling have a tendency to be novelty seekers, feel disconnected (dissociated), relaxed, or aroused while gambling or playing video games. Individuals who have a low level of serotonin in the brain are also thought to be at higher risk for developing pathological gambling compared to others.

What are symptoms and signs of a gambling addiction?

Pathological gambling involves persistent and recurring problem gambling that includes several of the following symptoms that are not the result of another mental-health problem, like during a manic episode:

  • A preoccupation with gambling, either by reliving past gambling, planning for future gambling experiences, and/or thinking of ways to secure money to finance gambling
  • Needing more and more money for gambling in order to achieve the desired level of gambling enjoyment
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or reduce betting behaviors
  • Becoming uneasy or easily irritated when trying to reduce or stop gambling
  • Gambling for the purpose of escaping problems or to relieve sadness or anxiety
  • Returning to gambling after losing money in an effort to recoup losses
  • Lying to family or other loved ones, mental-health professionals, or others in an effort to hide the extent of the gambling behavior
  • Committing crimes (for example, stealing, fraud, or forgery) in an effort to finance gambling
  • Risking important relationships, employment, or other opportunities due to gambling
  • Depending on others for money to resolve dire financial situations that are the result of gambling
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/29/2015

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Depression Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Gambling Disorders - Causes and Risks

    If known, what was the cause of your gambling disorder? Did you have a risk factor?

    Post View 3 Comments
  • Gambling Disorders - Signs and Symptoms

    Please discuss the signs and symptoms associated with your gambling disorder.

    Post
  • Gambling Disorders - Diagnosis

    Describe the events that led to a gambling disorder diagnosis.

    Post
  • Gambling Disorders - Treatment

    What kinds of treatment helped you with your gambling disorder? What medications, if any, did you use?

    Post

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors