Compulsive Gambling

What is Compulsive Gambling?

A compulsive gambling disorder is considered a mental health issue that impacts a person’s impulse control. While there is usually no reason for concern with occasional gambling, a person who is a compulsive gambler will exhibit several symptoms.

The most common causes of compulsive gambling include social stress, a person’s thought process and biological factors. Risk factors that intensify the probability of a gambling disorder include alcohol addiction, an antisocial personality, mood disorders and schizophrenia. Individuals who have a decreased amount of serotonin in their brain are also more likely to develop a gambling problem.

What are the Symptoms of Compulsive Gambling?

The signs of compulsive gambling include getting a high from taking huge risks while gambling, obsessing about gambling, using gambling as a means to forget about problems, telling lies about a gambling habit and feeling ashamed after gambling. Compulsive gamblers will often feel the need to gamble instead of going to their job or spending time with their families. Individuals who need money to gamble may often ask others for a loan or they may resort to stealing. When gamblers lose, they often keep gambling to try and win back their money and there is no stopping point.

Compulsive Gambling Causes

The exact cause of compulsive gambling hasn’t been identified. It is believed to result from a number of factors, including genetic predisposition, biological problems and environmental factors. Not all people who gamble develop this addiction. However, there are several risk factors that make compulsive gambling more likely.

People with mental illnesses may indulge in frequent gambling to ease depression and anxiety or to avoid problems. It has been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder and substance abuse problems. Younger people as well as the middle aged are more likely to become compulsive gamblers, though it has also been seen in seniors. Men are more likely to have this compulsion. This problem can also be influenced by the behavior of friends and family members. People who are close to compulsive gamblers are more likely to develop a gambling problem. There are also medications, such as dopamine agonists, that can give patients compulsive behaviors, and this can lead to compulsive gambling. Those who have impulsive, competitive and restless personalities are at a higher risk.

How is Compulsive Gambling Treated?

Compulsive gambling treatment often begins with psychological therapy. Two types of therapy that are commonly used is behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral treatments. During these therapy sessions, individuals will learn how to turn negative thoughts into positive thinking. Discussing their gambling disorder with other compulsive gamblers in a group setting is another form of treatment.

Individuals who suffer from additional disorders, such as ADHD and depression, may be prescribed a mood stabilizing medication or an antidepressant. Narcotic antagonist drugs also may be useful in the treatment of compulsive gambling.

Compulsive Gambling Prevention

The key to preventing compulsive gambling is counseling that allows the gambler to change their thinking about gambling. Many compulsive gamblers think of gambling as a way to earn money. Instead, it’s important for them to think of it as a recreational activity that will likely earn them nothing. Instead of making bigger and bigger bets, compulsive gamblers must learn to never bet more than they are financially able to lose. Setting gambling budget limits before a session of gambling is also important. This prevents open-ending gambling that can lead to financial ruin. Compulsive gamblers should also learn not to chase losses. If they have lost a lot of money during gambling, that doesn’t mean they need to gamble more in order to win it back. With behavior modification, it’s possible to avoid harmful gambling behaviors.

Last Reviewed:
September 19, 2016
Last Updated:
December 08, 2017