Pathological Gambling: Causes and Symptoms

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What is Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is defined as compulsive gambling that occurs to such an extent that it has a negative effect on employment, health and relationships. It has passed the point of being a recreational activity and people often lie, steal and commit fraud to support their need to gamble. In many cases, a person will lose their home and everything they own and will still feel compelled to gamble.

What Causes Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder. It is thought that the act of compulsive gambling is the result of a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors. In particular, people seem to become addicted to the rush that comes from gambling. Endorphins are released while they play the machines or lay bets and these result in feelings of euphoria. The elation and sense of well being momentarily outweigh the problems of debt, worry and damaged relationships.

What Are the Symptoms of Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is characterized by seemingly irresistible urges to gamble. The person may have a preferred form of gambling such as card games, pokies, casino tables, horse racing, lotto or sports betting, but the addiction is the same. Many of these games are available on the Internet and this is a fairly new avenue for some gambling addicts. Pathological gambling is normally accompanied by some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Compulsive gambling is more common in males and they often start gambling in their late teens. Women generally start later in life.
  • Most gambling starts off as a social activity where the person gambles occasionally. The progression to compulsive gambling may take a number of years.
  • Pathological gambling can be brought on by periods of stress.
  • It is characterized by a preoccupation with gambling that interferes with the person’s ability to work and socialize.
  • The person has an apparent inability to cut back on the gambling, even if they desire to do so. Failed attempts to stop often result in them being grumpy and bad tempered.
  • The person often lies about the extent of their gambling and tries to cover up how much they are spending and how many hours they spend at the casino or pokies.
  • Gambling on the Internet is often easier to conceal than visits to casinos. Family members should check the browsing history and confront the person if proof is found of them spending money and gambling on various sites.
  • They frequently borrow money to gamble and may even resort to embezzling or theft to support their addiction.
  • They take increasingly big risks in the hopes of winning a large amount so they can solve their problems.
  • Feelings of guilt and remorse are common after they have gambled.

Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder that is hard to overcome without professional help. It can also be referred to as an addiction to gambling or compulsive gambling. Many gamblers seem unwilling to recognize the extent of their problem and it is often family members who insist they do something about their behavior. With a multi-faceted approach to treatment, it is possible for people to overcome pathological gambling.


Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders:

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