What is compulsive gambling?
Compulsive gambling, also called gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Gambling means that you’re willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value.
Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.
Compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives. Although treating compulsive gambling can be challenging, many people who struggle with compulsive gambling have found help through professional treatment.
How common is compulsive gambling?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of compulsive gambling?
The common symptoms of compulsive gambling are:
- Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning how to get more gambling money
- Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill
- Trying to control, cut back or stop gambling, without success
- Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
- Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
- Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
- Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
- Jeopardizing or losing important relationships, a job, or school or work opportunities because of gambling
- Resorting to theft or fraud to get gambling money
- Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away
Unlike most casual gamblers who stop when losing or set a loss limit, people with a compulsive gambling problem are compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time.
Some people with a compulsive gambling problem may have remission where they gamble less or not at all for a period of time. However, without treatment, the remission usually isn’t permanent.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes compulsive gambling?
Exactly what causes someone to gamble compulsively isn’t well-understood. Like many problems, compulsive gambling may result from a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors.
What increases my risk for compulsive gambling?
There are many risk factors for compulsive gambling, such as:
- Mental health disorders. People who gamble compulsively often have substance abuse problems, personality disorders, depression or anxiety. Compulsive gambling may also be associated with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Compulsive gambling is more common in younger and middle-aged people. Gambling during childhood or the teenage years increases the risk of developing compulsive gambling. However, compulsive gambling in the older adult population can also be a problem.
- Compulsive gambling is more common in men than women. Women who gamble typically start later in life and may become addicted more quickly. But gambling patterns among men and women have become increasingly similar.
- Family or friend influence. If your family members or friends have a gambling problem, the chances are greater that you will, too.
- Medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome. Drugs called dopamine agonists have a rare side effect that may result in compulsive behaviors, including gambling, in some people.
- Certain personality characteristics. Being highly competitive, a workaholic, impulsive, restless or easily bored may increase your risk of compulsive gambling.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is compulsive gambling diagnosed?
If you recognize that you may have a problem with your gambling, talk with your primary care doctor about an evaluation or seek help from a mental health professional.
To evaluate your problem with gambling, your doctor or mental health professional will likely:
- Ask questions related to your gambling habits. He or she may also ask for permission to speak with family members or friends. However, confidentiality laws prevent your doctor from giving out any information about you without your consent.
- Review your medical information. Some drugs can have a rare side effect that results in compulsive behaviors, including gambling, in some people. A physical exam may identify problems with your health that are sometimes associated with compulsive gambling.
- Do a psychiatric assessment. This assessment includes questions about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns related to your gambling. Depending on your signs and symptoms, you may be evaluated for mental health disorders that are sometimes related to excessive gambling.
- Use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists criteria for the diagnosis of gambling disorder.
How is compulsive gambling treated?
Compulsive gambling can be treated. Treatment begins with the recognition of the problem.
Treatment options include individual and group psychotherapy, and self-help support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. This is a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Abstinence principles that apply to other types of addiction, such as substance abuse and alcohol dependence, are also relevant in the treatment of compulsive gambling behavior.
Recently, medications such as antidepressants, opioid antagonists, and mood stabilizers have been shown to be beneficial in combination with psychotherapy.
Like alcohol or drug addiction, pathological gambling is a chronic disorder that tends to get worse without treatment. Even though with treatment, it’s common to start gambling again (relapse), people with pathological gambling can do very well with the right treatment. Many people are able to gain control over their lives after undergoing treatment.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage compulsive gambling?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with compulsive gambling:
- Stay focused on your No. 1 goal: not to gamble.
- Tell yourself it’s too risky to gamble at all. One bet typically leads to another and another.
- Give yourself permission to ask for help, as sheer willpower isn’t enough to overcome compulsive gambling. Ask a family member or friend to encourage you to follow your treatment plan.
- Recognize and then avoid situations that trigger your urge to bet.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 26, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019
Compulsive gambling. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/compulsive-gambling/home/ovc-20258391. Accessed September 26, 2017.
Gambling Disorder (Compulsive Gambling, Pathological Gambling). https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/gambling-disorder-compulsive-gambling-pathological-gambling. Accessed September 26, 2017.