Compulsive Gambling

Frequent gambling that dominates a person’s life

  • Usually develops by the age of 25
  • More common in males
  • Exposure to gambling in adolescence is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

In compulsive gambling or pathological gambling, a person has an intense urge to gamble that dominates his or her life. Compulsive gamblers continually increase their spending to achieve their desired intensity of excitement. They build up large debts and may lie, steal, and defraud to continue gambling. This behaviour continues regardless of its effects on family and social life and jeopardizes work and relationships.

Compulsive gambling is more common in men and usually develops before the age of 25. Growing up with a parent who gambles compulsively or who is dependent on alcohol has been shown to increase the risk. Adolescents who gamble are at an increased risk of developing a gambling problem. A person who gambles compulsively often appears optimistic and full of confidence. However, the disorder may be associated with mood disorders, such as anxiety (see Anxiety disorders) and depression, and with an antisocial personality disorder.

What might be done?

If a person is gambling excessively, a family member or friend may consult the doctor. The person will be assessed and treated for any underlying psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Most self-help groups offer valuable support and encouragement, and a number of groups also give support to family and friends in their efforts to help a compulsive gambler.

Psychological therapies may be beneficial once the person has managed to refrain from gambling for a period of at least 3 months. Generally, therapy works best when a person has managed to gain some control over the compulsion to gamble.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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