What Is Pathological Gambling?
Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder in which a person is unable to resist urges to gamble.
Read more on impulse control disorders
This problem gambling can lead to severely and negative personal and social problems. If one continues to gamble despite the obvious toll it takes on the personal life of the gambler. Pathological gambling can destroy lives.
Pathological gambling may appear on a spectrum, ranging from self-reported "problem gambling" (also known as ludomania) to the fully-diagnosable "pathological gambling." Pathological gambling is often referred to as "gambling addiction," similar to other types of behavioral addictions, but is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as an impulse control disorder.
Compulsive gambling is a sort of disorder in which a gambler continues to gamble whether they are winning or losing, happy or depressed. Even while faced with insurmountable odds or stacks of bills, pathological gamblers cannot easily stop gambling.
What Causes Someone To Become A Pathological Gambler?
The precise cause for pathological gambling is unknown. Like so many mental illnesses, pathological gambling appears to be the commingling of a combination of environmental, genetic, and biological components.
What Are The Risks For Development of Compulsive Gambling?
While the precise cause for pathological gambling remains a mystery, there are some known risk factors for developing compulsive gambling. Compulsive gambling does affect both sexes and crosses cultural and socioeconomic boundaries.
Here some known risk factors that may indicate increased likelihood of development of pathological gambling:
Age: Compulsive gambling is more common in younger men, while it affects women in their later years.
Sex: Compulsive gambling is more common among males - women who gamble tend to begin gambling later in life.
Genetics: Growing up with a parent or close relative who had a problem with gambling may increase the risks for development of pathological gambling.
Personality: People who have highly competitive personalities, those who are workaholics, those who are easily bored and restless may develop a gambling problem.
Who Becomes A Compulsive Gambler?
People who develop into pathological gamblers generally start with being an occasional gambler. Stressful life circumstances may lead the gambler to develop a compulsion to gamble - it is important to note that while compulsive gamblers deal with compulsion and repetition, sharing features of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, pathological gambling is clinically different.
Read more about obsessive-compulsive disorder.
During periods of stress and life changes, an occasional gambler may become a problem gambler, until a compulsive gambler becomes entirely preoccupied with gambling and getting more money with which to gamble.
Am I A Compulsive Gambler?
If you're concerned that you may have a gambling problem, read the following questions below. If you've answered yes to any of the following, you may have a problem gambling.
Do you, or do you feel you should, hide your gambling from others?
Can you actually control your gambling?
Do you gamble when you don't have the money?
Are your friends or family worried about your gambling?
Gambling Myths Demystified:
As with any other type of compulsive behavior, there exist many myths in regards to gambling and problem gambling.
These gambling myths include the following:
Myth: "If you can afford to gamble, compulsive gambling isn't a problem."
Reality: There are more than just financial problems associated with compulsive gambling - relationships, friendships, and other important relationships are sorely hurt by problem gambling.
Myth: "To be a problem gambler, you gamble every day."
Reality: Someone with a gambling problem may gamble often...or not often. Gambling is a problem if gambling is a problem.
Myth: "People are driven to gamble by their partners."
Reality: Problem gamblers often use rationalization when gambling - blaming a relationship or another person is a good way to pass the blame.
Myth: "You should help a problem gambler with his or her debt."
Reality: Quick fix solutions may appear to help, but it's actually enabling the problem gambler to continue to gamble.
What Is Compulsive Gambling About?
While it may appear that the compulsion to gamble is all about the financial payoff, it is not true for compulsive gamblers. Rather than being preoccupied with the possible financial gains, compulsive gamblers are all about the thrill - the high - that gambling provides.
Sustaining the thrill, due to tolerance, may involve taking bigger and bigger risks with larger sums of money.
Compulsive gamblers feel compelled to keep playing - despite the common knowledge that "the house always wins" - to recoup their gambling losses. This pattern of behavior becomes more and more destructive the longer it goes on.
What Are The Symptoms Of Pathological Gambling?
People who have problems with pathological gambling may feel very ashamed by their gambling addiction. Therefore, these people may go to great lengths to cover up and/or hide their gambling problems.
Some symptoms of pathological gambling may include the following:
- Borrowing money from friends to gamble
- Preoccupation with gambling and going gambling
- Reliving past gambling experiences over and over
- Lying and other attempts to cover gambling up
- Taking time off from work or family activities to gamble.
- Using gambling as a tool to fend off depression or as an escape from problems
- Exhilaration and joy found from taking big gambling risks
- Needing bigger and bigger gambling risks to achieve the same effects
- Stealing money to gamble
- Can't cut-back on gambling after trying
How Is Pathological Gambling Diagnosed?
A problem with gambling may garner a diagnosis of pathological gambling if five or more of the following symptoms, provided by the APA's diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV, are met:
Preoccupation: the person with the gambling problem is preoccupied with gambling. He or she may often have thoughts about gambling experiences, planning the next gambling adventure, spends a lot of time thinking about how to get more money for gambling.
Tolerance: the person with the gambling problem must, similar to someone with a drug dependence, require more and more amounts of winning, money, or greater gambles.
Withdrawal: when the person with a gambling problem is faced with trying to stop his or her gambling addiction, he or she becomes restless and irritable.
Read more about addiction.
Loss of Control: the person with the gambling problem has made efforts - that were unsuccessful - to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
Escape: the person who gambles does so in order to escape problems or as a way of relieving his or her bad mood. Other feelings that may lead to gambling include, guilt, anxiety, depression, and feeling helpless.
Chasing: After losing money, a person with a gambling problem often returns to chase the loss - to break even.
Lying: the person with a gambling problem often compulsively lies to people such as their therapist, family members, and other people to hide the extent of his or her gambling problem.
Illegal Activity: to further his or her gambling habit, the person commits illegal acts including (but not limited to): forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzling.
Bailout: the person who gambles relies upon others (family and/or friends) to provide money to lessen the financial severity of gambling losses.
Relationships In Jeopardy: the person who gambles has lost or jeopardized a romantic relationship, job, career opportunity, or educational opportunity due to the gambling activity.
What Problems Are Associated With Pathological Gambling?
There are a number of very serious consequences associated with pathological gambling. These may include the following complications:
- Job loss
- Financial problems
- Problems with interpersonal relationships
- Legal problems
- Alcohol or drug abuse
Treatment for Pathological Gambling:
Managing and treating disorders like pathological gambling can be particularly hard. Pathological gambling is hard to treat, in part, because the person who has a problem with gambling may not want to admit that he or she has a problem with gambling. This is especially true when the pathological gambler only enters treatment after pressure by family or work.
Treatment is focused upon acknowledgment of a gambling problem, and may involve three components:
1) Medications: antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help with the problems associated with compulsive gambling, like depression, ADHD, OCD. There are no known drugs to treat pathological gambling, itself.
2) Therapy - most treatment plans for compulsive gambling involve therapy. These therapies may be cognitive behavioral therapy or behavior therapy:
- Behavioral Therapy is a type of therapy that uses systematic exposures to work toward unlearning certain behavior (in this case, gambling) and teaches skills to reduce gambling urges.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - this type of therapy focuses upon identifying unhealthy, irrational beliefs and replacing them with positive beliefs.
3) Self-Help Groups: many people who struggle with gambling find that self-help groups can be very important while recovering from an addiction.
Self-Care Tips For Coping With Gambling Addiction:
If the pathological gambler focuses upon winning "the next time" he or she goes to the casino or track, the appeal of gambling may remain strong. As is the case for all addictions, quitting the addictive behavior is relatively easy as compared to staying sober.
The following are some tips for managing and resisting the temptation to gamble:
- Make the decision to stop gambling.
- Admit you have a problem with gambling.
- Address any of the other problems that may have triggered the gambling - such as treating your depression or anxiety.
- Surround yourself with people who care and understand your problems with gambling.
- Find and avoid any types of situations that trigger the desire to gamble.
- Before going back to gambling, think of the implications of the decision and find something else to do while the urge is strong.
- Avoid atmospheres that foster gambling - sports games with friends, the casino, the track.
- Have someone else manage your credit cards and finances so you do not have open access to all of that cash.
- Your first goal is not to gamble - keep that in mind when the urge to gamble is strong.
- Tell yourself that it's too risky to gamble even a "little bit." A single hand of poker leads to another and another...
- Schedule other enjoyable activities to fill up the time you would otherwise have used to gamble.
- Ask for help - overcoming a powerful compulsion may be very challenging - and not something easily done alone. There is no shame in admitting that you are powerless in the face of your addiction.
My Loved One Has Problems With Gambling - Help!
If someone you love has a problem with gambling, you may notice certain types of behaviors:
He or she may:
- Become defense of the time and money he or she spends gambling.
- Become secretive and controlling over the finances and money.
- Become desperate for money - credit cards may be maxed out, jewelry and other valuables may disappear.
The Do's for a Partner of A Compulsive Gambler:
Be supportive - a compulsive gambler needs the support of his or her family and friends.
Remember: the decision to quit gambling is not yours to make - you must allow the problem gambler to admit that he or she has a problem with gambling.
Accept that compulsive gambling is an illness.
Protect yourself financially - get a new bank account that only you have access to.
Protect your emotions - it may be horribly hard to accept that your loved one has done things and behaved in certain ways while in the throes of his or her gambling problems.
Reach out for help - you don't need to go through this alone.
Find and attend local support groups for people whose partners also have problems with gambling.
Explain the gambling problem to your children.
Remind yourself of the good qualities of your partner - they are there.
Stay calm while talking to your partner about gambling and the consequences.
Tell your partner you're seeking help for yourself due to the way the gambling affects you and your family.
Recognize the gambling problem as a real problem and understand that it may need to be treated.
Set boundaries with your partner especially with money.
The Don't's Of Having A Partner With A Gambling Problem:
Don't lecture, preach, or lose control over your anger with your partner's gambling.
Don't hide the gambling problem or cover it up with excuses.
Don't exclude your partner from family life and activities.
Don't make threats or offer ultimatums unless you plan to follow through.
Don't expect that all problems will be resolved overnight.
Don't bailout - or enable - the gambler when he or she needs financial help.
Don't question or interrogate the gambler - there's no purpose.
Don't dwell on the "could've been's" - live in the present.
Additional Pathological Gambling Resources:
Gamblers Anonymous: 1-888-GA-HELPS
National Council on Problem Gambling: 1-800-522-4700
GamCare (UK): 0808 8020 133
Gamblers Help (AU): 1-800-858-858
For The Gambler:
Gamblers Anonymous: is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem. Works the same 12 steps as other Anonymous programs.
National Council on Problem Gambling: the national advocate for programs and services to assist problem gamblers and their families. The mission of the NCPG is to increase public awareness of pathological gambling, ensure the widespread availability of treatment for problem gamblers and their families, and to encourage research and programs for prevention and education.
GamCare - UK site that provides support, information and advice to anyone with a gambling problem.
Gambling Support (Tasmanian Dept. of Health and Human Services: Gambling support, information, and programs for people who struggle with gambling.
Bettors Anonymous: is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others recover from a gambling problem.
For The Family of the Gambler:
Gam-Anon: self-help organization that supports the partner, family and close friends of a pathological gambler.
Help for Families: is a private, non-profit health agency dedicated to reducing the social, financial and emotional costs of problem gambling.