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compulsive gambling disorder

Alternative 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 for oneself or others. Gambling depends on skill or chance, and 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 pathological when a person begins to do it on a regular basis. The person gambles even though it has negative social, financial, interpersonal, or emotional results. Betting may be on dog races, card games, slots, dice, sports events, lotteries, bingo, or the stock market. It involves any situation that provides the gambler with action and excitement.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
A person is a compulsive gambler if he or she has five or more of the following signs and symptoms:
  • a preoccupation with gambling and behaviours linked with gambling
  • the need to increase the amount of risk associated with gambling to feel the excitement
  • repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling
  • restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
  • gambling as a way of escaping from problems
  • after losing money, often returns another day to get even
  • lying to family members to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
  • committing illegal acts, such as stealing, to finance gambling
  • jeopardising or losing an important relationship or job due to gambling
  • reliance on others to provide money to pay bills
What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
A compulsive gambler can be male or female. Compulsive gambling affects 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 pathological gambling.

Legalised gambling is one of the fastest growing industries in Australia. Gambling is now available on the Internet, which makes it very accessible.

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 needs to be distinguished from professional gambling or social gambling. Professional gamblers have predetermined risk limits and self-control. Social gamblers are distinguished by their ability to maintain predetermined limits on their behaviour.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Compulsive gambling disorder often leads to:
  • marital problems
  • large financial debts
  • loss of employment
  • legal problems
  • isolation from friends and relatives
  • suicide attempts

What are the risks to others? 
Families can be financially ruined by a family member with compulsive gambling disorder.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Treatment is often started after a person with compulsive gambling disorder has come into legal problems, or when family members confront the gambler. Once the person seeks treatment, he or she must refrain from all forms of gambling. Self-help support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, are effective in helping people to 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, is also important.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Side effects depend on the medications used, but may include drowsiness or allergic reactions.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Relapses are common for compulsive gamblers. During treatment, a financial crisis may occur. The legal consequences of gambling usually 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 counselling maybe needed. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne

Last Updated: 15/09/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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