Compulsive gambling is an impulse control disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to gamble. In compulsive gambling, your life becomes dominated by gambling.
It is not clear what causes compulsive gambling. There is some evidence that there may be a genetic component.
Research has also shown that people who have a gambling addiction experience changes in their brain. These brain changes are like those that occur in people who are addicted to drugs.
Impulse control is believed to exist in this part of the brain.
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Gambling addiction is more common in males. Factors that may increase the risk of compulsive gambling include:
- Family history of gambling problems
- Mood disorders
- Personality disorders
- Drug abuse
or gambling at a young age
- Certain traits, such as having a competitive character, being restless, and getting bored easily
Symptoms of compulsive gambling may include:
- Gambling longer than you intended to
- Taking time from work or family life to gamble
- Feeling guilty after gambling
- Lying to hide gambling
- Not being able to sleep due to thoughts about gambling
Having financial problems due to gambling, such as:
- Spending all of your money on gambling
- Needing to borrow money for gambling
- Trying to earn money through gambling to pay your bills
- Being involved in illegal activities to get money for gambling
- Trying to quit gambling but not being able to
- Feeling depressed or suicidal due to gambling
You may be referred to a mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about your:
- Medical history
- Mental health history
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Counseling for compulsive gambling may include
cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can help you learn to correct the the negative thoughts and beliefs that lead you to gamble, to find healthier responses to stress, to develop social skills, and to prevent relapse. Therapy can also help uncover what lead you to compulsively gamble.
There is some evidence that people who compulsively gamble may benefit from medications, such as:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Mood stabilizers
- Opioid antagonists
- Bupropion—an antidepressant
There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. But if you have a problem with impulse control, avoiding situations where there is gambling may prevent you from developing a problem.
10 questions about gambling behavior. Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado website. Available at:
http://www.problemgamblingcolorado.org/content/10-questions. Accessed September 15, 2014.
Black DW, Monahan PO, Temkit M, et al. A family study of pathological gambling.
Psychiatry Res. 2006;141:295-303.
Dannon PN, Lowengrub K, Gonopolski Y, Musin E, Kotler M. Pathological gambling: a review of phenomenological models and treatment modalities for an underrecognized psychiatric disorder.
Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8:334-339.
Kalechstein AD, et al. Pathological gamblers demonstrate frontal lobe impairment consistent with that of methamphetamine dependent individuals.
J Neuropsych Clin Neurosci.
Signs of a gambling problem. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at:
http://www.masscompulsivegambling.org/paths/what_signs.php. Accessed September 15, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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