Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is an impulse-control disorder that results in an irresistible focus on gambling money and betting, despite any negative consequences. Criteria of this disorder generally focus on the negative results of the behavior, rather than the behavior itself. While pathological gambling may be better known as a 'gambling addiction', this disorder is not considered by professionals to result from addictive behavior, but rather the inability to resist urges, or lack of impulse control.


Symptoms of Pathological Gambling


Symptoms of pathological gambling may often resemble those of other mental illnesses, but the focus lies on the negative effects created by the behavior. When gambling interferes with the normal and functional routine of the person suffering and any family, friends or community involved, a diagnosis may be indicated. Following is a list of symptoms that may point to pathological gambling. Generally, if at least 5 of these symptoms are experienced, treatment options should be sought.

  • Preoccupation – constant focus on past, present or future gambling experiences, and new ways to get money to use for betting
  • Tolerance – gambling tolerance levels constantly increase, whereas the sufferer must spend larger amounts of money to satisfy the urge
  • Loss of Control – the inability to control gambling, despite many efforts to limit or cease the behavior
  • Withdrawal – mood changes and irritability when attempts are made to focus away from gambling
  • Escape – gambling is used as a means of escape from negative feelings and stress, just as drug use or overeating might result in the same
  • Chasing – if money is lost while gambling, a plan will be implemented to regain the losses or even the score by returning again and again
  • Lying – involvement with gambling is covered up and denied when questioned by loved ones, colleagues or a professional therapist
  • Illegal activity – may commit acts of fraud, forgery or embezzlement to finance gambling or bets
  • Risked relationships – pathological gambling has resulted in a significant loss of friends, job or relationships with others
  • Bailout – asks for loans and assistance from friends or family to recover a desperate financial situation (this money may then be used for gambling)


Causes of Pathological Gambling


As with any impulse-control disorder, the exact cause of pathological gambling is not known. Research studies do provide possibilities, including brain chemical imbalance or family history of mood disorders and abuse. Impulse-control disorders often result from growing up in a dysfunctional family.


Diagnosis of Pathological Gambling


Pathological gambling is difficult to diagnose, due directly to the symptoms themselves. Patients are not likely to seek help until drastic consequences have manifested. Even then, symptoms such as lying and bailout may persist. In order to pinpoint this diagnosis, symptoms of other disorders cannot be present, such as evidence of mania or schizoid tendencies.


Treatment Options for Pathological Gambling


No medications are approved for the treatment of pathological gambling. If medication is recommended, it is often done so as treatment for an underlying condition, such as depression or anxiety. The best treatment available for this disorder is some form of counseling. Following is a list of the different types of therapy that may benefit this condition:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – brings about awareness of thoughts and feelings that may result in obsessive gambling behavior and offers activities and coping skills which may prevent symptoms
  • Gamblers Anonymous – 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous that offers mutual support for those involved in pathological gambling
  • Self Help and Peer Support – many online organizations offer forums and assistance for people who do not wish to disclose gambling problems to loved ones
  • Voluntary Exclusion – the gambler can sign up to be permanently banned from entering certain state casinos and from collecting winnings under some state lottery programs