Compulsive gambling can be categorized into two types: action gambling and escape gambling.


While it may appear that addictions are solely pleasure-seeking behaviors, the roots of addiction can also be traced to a wish to suppress or avoid some kind of emotional pain.

In the broadest sense, addictive or pathological gambling is gambling behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational. Addictive gambling is sometimes referred to as the “hidden illness,” because there are no visible physical symptoms. The American Psychological Association classifies compulsive gambling as a mental health disorder of impulse control. It is a chronic and progressive disease that is both diagnosable and treatable. About 2 to 4 percent of Americans have an active gambling problem.

It is significant to note that teens are about three times more likely to become pathological gamblers than adults. This is the reverse of the case in most addictions, where the problem among adults is statistically more prevalent than among children and teens. For this reason, early education about the dangers of gambling addiction and information on how to get help for the problem is vital for preventing the disease. Problem and pathological gamblers across age groups also use tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs more often than do other groups.

What are the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction?

The American Psychological Association reports ten diagnostic criteria,for determining the extent of gambling addiction. These criteria are:

* Five or more of these signs = pathological gambler

* Three or four = problem gambler

* One or two = “at risk” gambler

Another way of assessing whether or not you have an addiction to gambling is to ask yourself the followingtwenty questions, provided by the self-help organization Gamblers Anonymous:

According to Gamblers Anonymous, if you answer ‘yes’ to seven of more of these questions, you most likely have a compulsive gambling problem.

What are the “three phases” of gambling addiction?

The progressive, downward cycle of pathological gambling typically follows a pattern of increasing involvement in the addictive behavior. Robert L. Custer, M.D., identified the development of the disease as following three phases:

Excerpted from: Pathological gambling: An addiction embracing the nation [Internet]. Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery (Peoria, IL); 2005 [cited May 2006]. Available at: https://www.addictionrecov.org/aboutgam.htm.

A final phase can be categorized as the hopelessness phase, where gamblers cannot see a way out of their predicament. They have reached “the bottom,” and at this point almost all pathological gamblers consider suicide and about 20% will attempt it.

Two forms of gambling that can lead to full scale loss of control and life destruction relatively quickly arevideo poker and slot machines. These are sometimes called the “crack cocaine of gambling” because of their immediate and effective reinforcement schedules. A gambler addicted to slot or video-poker machines can progress into the desperation phase in two to three years.

What are the causes of addictive gambling?

Although the causes of pathological gambling are not known for certain, researchers have made many observations about the dynamics of the disease and the personality profiles of those who succumb to it. Gambling addiction expert Dr. Richard Rosenthal believes that three criteria are necessary for a person to become a pathological gambler:

Physical or hereditary predispositions are also thought to play a role, though these links have not been proven or disproven. One study conducted by Alec Roy, M.D., formerly of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, showed that some pathological gamblers have lower levels of the brain chemicalnorepinephrine than normal gamblers. It has been hypothesized that pathological gamblers may engage in addictive gambling to increase their levels of norepinephrine, since it is excreted under stress and arousal.

What are the social and economic effects of gambling addiction?

In 1998 the National Gambling Impact Study Commission funded a study to determine the overall cost to society posed by problem and pathological gamblers in the United States. The results showed that approximately $5 billion was lost annually, with an additional $40 billion in lifetime costs for productivity reductions, social services and creditor losses. Studies have concluded that two out of three pathological gamblers commit illegal acts in order to pay gambling-related debts. This places a hardship on our legal systems,prison systems and public assistance programs.

The following consequences of problem gambling all result in economic costs for states, communities and individuals:

Excerpted from: Effects of Problem Gambling [Internet]. California Council on Problem Gambling (Anaheim, CA); 2006 [cited May 2006].

Available at: http://www.calproblemgambling.org/gambling_effects.html.

The families of problem gamblers also suffer greatly from physical and psychological abuse; harassment and threats from bill collectors and creditors; increased stress stemming from neglect and divorce; and the extra financial burden placed on them to repay debts.

Sadly, children are negatively affected by gambling addiction in several ways. Physical and emotional abandonment is a very real phenomenon. “Casino kids” are left in cars or on the periphery of the gambling action while their parents gamble, or may spend hours with babysitters, thus missing the nurturing they need. Children of pathological gamblers are typically abused verbally, mentally and physically by the gambler, and often even more so by the co-dependent spouse. Finally, these children are much more likely to develop gambling addiction than their peers.

How can I identify gambling addiction in the workplace?

Henry Lesieur, Ph.D. observed the following behaviors in the workplace as being correlated with a gambling addiction:

Excerpted from: Recognizing Internet Addiction [Internet]. Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery (Peoria, IL); 2005 [cited May 2006]. Available at: http://www.addictionrecov.org/recoggam.htm.

How can I overcome my addiction to gambling?

If you are grappling with this addiction, seek professional treatment. Once you admit and address the problem, other pieces of your life will fall back into place. According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for compulsive gambling is similar to therapies for other forms of addiction. Your doctor or mental health professional may use these approaches:

Crisis stabilization is very important at the beginning of treatment, because pathological gamblers have a much higher suicide rate than persons addicted to other substances or activities. Therefore, loved ones should be especially aware of the desperation phase of the disease, and monitor the gambler closely. Compulsive gamblers often have other addictions simultaneously, such as drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive shopping and bulimia. The addictive gambler may be harder to treat than someone with only one addiction, because he or she may “switch addictions” and therefore leave the addictive personality traits untreated. What should I look for in choosing a treatment program?

The National Council on Problem Gambling recommends selecting a treatment program that meets three criteria. The program should:

In addition, consider asking the following twelve questions when selecting a gambling treatment program:


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