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Compulsive Gambling Disorder

Compulsive Gambling Disorder

Alternate Names

  • pathological gambling


Compulsive gambling is a disorder in which a person cannot control his or her urge to gamble. Gambling is any betting or wagering carried out for oneself or others. Gambling depends on skill or chance. It may or may not involve money. Compulsive gambling disorder is an impulse control disorder.

What is going on in the body?

Gambling is thought to be a disorder when a person begins to do it on a regular basis. The person keeps gambling even though it has negative social, financial, interpersonal, or emotional results. He or she may bet on such things as:
  • dog races
  • card games
  • slots
  • dice
  • sports events
  • lotteries
  • bingo
  • the stock market
It involves any situation that provides the gambler with action and excitement.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

A compulsive gambler can be male or female. This condition can affect any age, race, income, or religion. It is more common among people who also have other compulsive or addictive disorders. Depression and other mood disorders are also linked with compulsive gambling.
Legalized gambling is a fast-growing industry in the U.S. People can even gamble easily over the Internet. Older adults are at particularly high risk for compulsive gambling because they have time on their hands and may seek socialization in gambling casinos.


What can be done to prevent the condition?

There is no known prevention for compulsive gambling.


How is the condition diagnosed?

Compulsive gambling disorder is diagnosed when a person has five or more of the symptoms listed above. It differs from professional gambling or social gambling. Professional gamblers set risk limits and show self-control. Social gamblers are also able to adhere to limits they set on their gambling.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Compulsive gambling disorder often leads to:
  • isolation from friends and relatives
  • large financial debts
  • legal problems
  • loss of employment
  • marital problems
  • suicide attempts

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

In a family where one member has compulsive gambling disorder, financial ruin can result. However, this condition is not contagious per se.


What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment is often started after a person with compulsive gambling disorder has gotten into legal problems or when family members confront the gambler. Once the person seeks treatment, he or she must stop all forms of gambling. Self-help support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous help people stop gambling.
Some evidence exists that fluvoxamine, a type of antidepressant, is effective in helping a person in treatment abstain from gambling. Treatment of associated disorders, such as depression or alcoholism, may also help.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the medicines used. They may include drowsiness or allergic reactions.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Relapses are common for compulsive gamblers. During treatment, a financial crisis may occur. Legal problems due to gambling also often begin to develop during this time.


How is the condition monitored?

A compulsive gambler may need to remain in therapy or continue with Gamblers Anonymous to prevent relapse. Family counseling may be needed. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.



"Pathological gambling: An addiction embracing the nation" [hyperLink url="" linkTitle=""][/hyperLink]

Hales, Robert, Textbook of Psychiatry, 2nd edition. 1994

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