What is Pathological Gambling?

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  • Written By: Bethney Foster
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Pathological gambling, sometimes called compulsive gambling, is an inability to resist desires to wager. The pathological gambler will often miss work and family commitments and go without sleep in order to gamble. The extent of gambling often leaves the pathological gambler with career, relationship, and legal problems. Considered a behavioral addiction or an impulse control disorder, pathological gambling has some similarities to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What causes pathological gambling is unknown. Those diagnosed with pathological gambling are more likely to have certain other mental health issues, such as a borderline personality disorder and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Pathological gamblers are more likely to abuse drugs, suffer from a heart attack, and attempt suicide.

A pathological gambler is obsessed with gambling and thinks about it almost constantly. Over time, the person will need to wager more and more money to get the desired rush from gambling. As with other addictions, the pathological gambler will often try to quit but fail. When not gambling, the person may become irritable and restless.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists 10 symptoms of a person who is a pathological gambler. Among these symptoms are the person spending more and more money when gambling and gambling to try to make money that has been lost wagering. The pathological gambler will often lie about how much time and money are spent gambling and may steal or commit other crimes in order to make money to gamble.


Pathological gambling usually begins with recreational wagering and gradually builds to the point that the person with the addiction is betting on all kinds of outcomes and playing many different gambling games. The pathological gambler may wager online, play the lottery, and visit casinos. Pathological gamblers rarely limit themselves to one game. In men, the addiction usually begins in the early teens, while many women who become pathological gamblers may not show signs of addiction until they are 40 years old.

Men are about twice as likely as women to become compulsive gamblers. Pathological gamblers tend to be of lower incomes. People who have a parent who was a pathological gambler and people who are alcoholics are more likely to be pathological gamblers.

Pathological gamblers are unlikely to admit they have a problem or to seek help on their own. In most instances, the pathological gambler seeks help for the problem under pressure from family members, friends, or employers. Treatment often involves a 12-step program such as Gamblers Anonymous.


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Post 3

@Iluviaporos - There's nothing wrong with gambling in general as long as people don't take it seriously and don't try to make a living out of it. It is designed to be a psychological trap, but it's a trap that a lot of people manage to negotiate. If someone can't negotiate it, then they have to learn how to avoid it.

Gambling addiction is serious, I'm not disputing that. Any addiction is serious. But gambling is not going away, any more than alcohol is, because the majority of people don't have a problem with it.

Post 2

@bythewell - I don't know why people get it into their heads that they are going to be able to beat the system. Maybe if they are playing a game that actually requires skill, like poker, but even then the element of chance just seems too high for me.

And most other forms of gambling are essentially throwing money away. I took a course once to be a Lotto distributor and they told us what the odds were on winning even a small amount, let alone a big amount. You would be much better off if you put the amount you'd spend on a ticket into a savings account every week.

Post 1

One of my friends at university was a compulsive gambler and it got her into a lot of trouble. She was given a lump sum for her student loan that was supposed to go towards housing and she blew it on gambling instead. Luckily, once she got into a GA program and discussed the situation with the dorm managers they were able to come to an arrangement where she could pay the money she owed over a longer period of time and wasn't thrown out.

In some ways I think it was probably a good thing that she ended up figuring out she had this problem in a situation where she was able to get help and wasn't responsible for anyone else. I can't imagine how devastating it would be for a parent in the same situation, or someone who wasn't able to avoid being homeless. It could ruin a person's life more quickly than drugs or alcohol.

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