Facts About Pathological Gambling

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Definition of Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling bears similarities to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and substance abuse disorders but stands alone as a condition. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (APA, 1994) defines pathological gambling as persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family or vocational pursuits.

Pathological gambling can be extremely damaging and may lead to extensive financial loss and bankruptcy if the person does not seek help.


Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder. Impulse control disorders are defined as psychological disorders characterized by the repeated inability to refrain from performing a particular action that is harmful either to oneself or others. Here are some interesting facts about pathological gambling and how it plays out in people’s lives:

  • Pathological gamblers are more likely to be young men and those from lower socio-economic groups but also includes men and women from all backgrounds and cultures.
  • Pathological gamblers go through cycles of victory when they have a win, leading onto loss followed by despair. They continue gambling until they win again, so perpetuating the cycle.
  • Sufferers spend a lot of time thinking about gambling and use it as an escape from the reality of life and hardship.
  • The gambling seems uncontrollable and even if they resolve to give it up, they seem unable to.
  • Stress is a trigger that sends many people back to gambling, even if they had made progress towards quitting.
  • Many pathological gamblers lie about the extent of their problem and lie about how much gambling they are doing.
  • Gamblers will steal, commit fraud, embezzle funds and have even been known to forge money to enable them to continue with their gambling addiction.
  • In extreme cases, gamblers may relieve themselves in front of a pokie machine they have been feeding all day. This is because they fear losing the jackpot if they take a restroom break.
  • Gambling often causes serious relationship problems, the loss of trust and the break up of marriages.

Seeking Help

There are a number of ways that pathological gamblers can be helped with their addiction. Here are some ideas of where to look for assistance to break free from the crippling cycles of gambling:

  • Gamblers Anonymous groups are active in many areas and offer active support to those working on breaking free from gambling.
  • Medication may be prescribed by a doctor, especially if pathological gambling is accompanied by other conditions such as OCD, bipolar disorder or depression.
  • Writing a gambling history can be helpful as it states clearly how much time and money has been wasted and forces the addict to face the facts.
  • In some cities, gamblers can sign a form that blocks them from entering any gambling establishments in the area. These people are made known to the casino and bar operators who are legally bound to deny them access.
  • Blocking gambling websites from home computers and remove gambling reminders such as dice and playing cards from the home environment is a step towards freedom.

Knowing the facts about pathological gambling is important when seeking help to overcome this impulse control disorder. With treatment and support, people can learn to resist the temptation to gamble and can go on to live a normal life.


Head Case: Treat yourself to Better Mental Health, Dr Pamela Stephenson Connolly, Headline Publishing Group, 2007

Medline Plus: Pathological gambling - https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001520.htm