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Gambling Can Become Pathological

Introduction

The essential feature in defining pathological gambling is persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family, or vocational pursuits. Individuals with this addiction typically continue to gamble despite repeated efforts to control, cut back, or stop the behavior. They will likely experience restlessness or irritibility when they attempt to cut down or stop. A pattern of "chasing one's losses" sometimes develops, with its "urgent" need to keep gambling (often with larger bets or the taking of greater risks) to undo a loss or series of losses. The individual will typically lie to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling. When the individual's borrowing resources become strained, he or she may resort to forgery, fraud, or embezzlement to obtain money. The individual may have jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of gambling.

Course

Pathological gambling typically begins in early adolescence in males and later in life in females. Although a few individuals are "hooked" with their very first bet, for most people, the course of their addiction is more insidious. There may be years of social gambling followed by an abrupt increase in gambling activity. The gambling pattern may be regular or episodic, and the course of the addiction is typically chronic. There is generally a progression in the frequency of gambling, the amount wagered, the preoccupation with gambling and obtaining money with which to gamble. The urge to gamble and gambling activity generally increase during periods of stress or depression.

Diagnostic Criteria

Persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior as indicated by at least five (or more) of the following:

  • Is preoccupied with gambling (e.g., preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture or thinking of ways in which to get money with which to gamble.)
  • Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
  • Has repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
  • Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
  • Gambles as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression.)
  • After losing money gambling, often returns another day in order to get even ("chasing one's losses.)
  • Lies to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
  • Has committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement in order to finance gambling.
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational career opportunity because of gambling.
  • Relies on others to provide money to relieve a desparate financial situation caused by gambling.

If you or someone you know or love exhibits some of these traits, please seek help. An excellent source of help is Gamblers Anonymous (for the gambler) or GAM-Anon (for the family and friends.)

**Adapted from DSM-IV

Last Reviewed: November 23, 2004