What is Compulsive Gambling?

An inability to control your impulses is what in psychiatry is referred to as a compulsive disorder. Pathological or compulsive gambling is defined as gambling in excess which causes financial, family, or even work-related problems. There is a fine line between occasional gambling and problem gambling, but where do we draw that line?

Gambling Disorder

Today’s culture tolerates moderate drinking, moderate gambling, etc. However, the same as with alcohol use, gambling tends to turn from a mere hobby to a serious impairment affecting a person’s life. Many gamblers typically don’t know that they have a problem. Unfortunately for them, they come to this realization when it’s probably already too late.

So, how to know the difference between a compulsive gambler and a pathological gambler?

Gambling Disorder

Some people gamble recreationally, some take time off of work or some other recreational activity to be able to bet. This kind of gambling may or may not turn to something worse. Every person is handling things differently, some people are able to take control and enjoy gambling often without falling into gambling addiction.

However, when it comes to pathological gambling there are a couple of telling signs that are usually observed in a time period of 12 months. If you, or your loved one, are experiencing three or more of the following signs, you may need to seek professional help.

  • Progressively taking more and more risks in gambling
  • A couple of unsuccessful attempts to quit
  • Feeling restless when not gambling
  • Preoccupied thoughts about gambling, talking about gambling, reliving previous experiences
  • Lying about the amount of money and time spent on gambling
  • Losing job or work opportunities due to gambling
  • Financial troubles or getting into debts


Compulsive gambling starts as recreational gambling and it usually starts in early adolescence in men, and between the age 20–40 in women.

Many professionals have tried to get to the bottom of this, however, the exact causes that lead to compulsive gambling are not well-understood. However, there are a couple of risk factors:

Mental Health Disorders

People who slide into addiction, no matter which one, are the ones having previous mental health issues or substance abuse problems. Pathological gambling is very similar to alcoholism, drug abuse, or any other psychological issues that trigger a person into developing a gambling habit. People with similar problems are also triggered by stressful situations that can worsen their gambling habit.


Compulsive habits are often developed at a much younger age, during a person’s adolescence, or during the middle-aged period when people have extra time and, of course, money for such a hobby. However, every adult can develop this habit at any time, there are no concrete rules.

Influenced by Others

Some people have had little to no encounters with gambling before their loved ones eventually showed them this form of entertainment. Usually, the problem is that every person is different in terms of how much control they have over their lives. This is why such a recommendation can potentially harm the person and turn that form of entertainment to an unhealthy habit.

Medication Used in the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease or Restless Leg Syndrome

There are a couple of studies that managed to find a correlation between dopamine released from the medication while treating Parkinson’s and compulsive gambling. However, there also many studies where scientists conjecture that the affected patients have underlying risk factors.

Certain Personality Characteristics

People who are competitive, impulsive, or easily bored are at risk of developing a compulsive gambling habit.



The treatment starts with a person admitting that they have a problem. Once they make a firm decision that they need to seek professional help, their road to recovery may commence.

There are plenty of treatment options, depending on a person’s preference. Individual therapy usually follows a cognitive-behavioural approach that has shown incredible results in treating compulsive gamblers. This therapy is best used in combination with self-help support groups such as Gambler Anonymous. This 12-step program meets weekly, sharing experiences, and helping each other to cope with their problems, develop new skills, and finally quit.

Recently, some people turned to medications like antidepressants or mood stabilizers that have proven to be beneficial once combined with psychotherapy.


Prevention can be challenging and, or, not possible in some cases. Early exposure to gambling may increase the risk of developing pathological behaviour later in life. Limiting such exposure may be useful for people who have few of the previously mentioned risk factors. Unfortunately, public exposure to gambling is exponentially growing each day, and there is nothing that we can do to stop that. The good news is that at least some forms of gambling are losing their audiences, such as some forms of lotteries, as well as some forms of betting.

This is why it is truly important to be able to separate occasional and pathological gambling on time. Early intervention—at the sight of first trouble—may save someone’s life.


Compulsive gambling is a progressive illness; it’s much easier to treat if discovered on time. There are several different stages that are progressively harder to notice. Each stage will come with its warning signs. Not every compulsive gambler will go through each stage in the cycle, however, there will most certainly be notable changes in the person’s behaviour. With some additional research on this topic, you may be able to see first warning signs and help your loved ones on time or even, help yourself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *