222876 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Compulsive Gambling

    (Gambling Addiction; Pathological Gambling)


    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. This can lead to problems with finances, career, and relationships. Compulsive gambling can be treated. Talk with your doctor if you think you have a problem.


    It is not clear what causes compulsive gambling. But there is some evidence that there may be a genetic component.
    Research has also show 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.
    Frontal Lobe
    Frontal lobe
    Impulse control is believed to exist in this part of the brain.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase the risk of compulsive gambling include:
    • Gender: male
    • 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
    • Feeling guilty after 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 (eg, stealing) to get money for gambling
    • Trying to quit gambling but not being able to
    • Feeling depressed or suicidal due to gambling


    Your doctor may refer you to mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about your:
    • Medical history
    • Mental health history
    • Symptoms


    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, find healthier responses to stress, develop social skills, and 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 medicines, 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.


    Mental Health America http://www.nmha.org/

    National Council on Problem Gambling http://www.ncpgambling.org/


    Canadian Mental Health Association http://www.cmha.ca/

    Problem Gambling http://www.problemgambling.ca/


    10 questions about gambling behavior. National Council on Problem Gambling website. Available at: http://www.ncpgambling.org/i4a/pages/Index.cfm?pageID=3439. Accessed August 27, 2012.

    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. 2007;19:298-303.

    Signs of problem gambling. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at: http://www.masscompulsivegambling.org/paths/what%5Fsigns.php. Accessed August 27, 2012.

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