Compulsive Gambling

(Gambling Addiction; Pathological Gambling)


Compulsive gambling is an impulse control disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to gamble. In compulsive gambling, your life becomes dominated by gambling.


It is not clear what causes compulsive gambling. There is some evidence that there may be a genetic component.
Research has also shown that people who have a gambling addiction experience changes in their brain. These brain changes are like those that occur in people who are addicted to drugs.
Frontal Lobe
Frontal lobe
Impulse control is believed to exist in this part of the brain.
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Risk Factors

Gambling addiction is more common in males. Factors that may increase the risk of compulsive gambling include:


Symptoms of compulsive gambling may include:


You may be referred to a mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about your:


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:


Counseling for compulsive gambling may include cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can help you learn to correct the negative thoughts and beliefs that lead you to gamble, find healthier responses to stress, develop social skills, and prevent relapse. Therapy can also help uncover what led you to compulsively gamble.


There is some evidence that people who compulsively gamble may benefit from medications, such as:
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Opioid antagonists
  • Bupropion—an antidepressant


There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. But if you have a problem with impulse control, avoiding situations where there is gambling may prevent you from developing a problem.


Mental Health America

National Council on Problem Gambling


Canadian Mental Health Association

Problem Gambling


Black DW, Monahan PO, et al. A family study of pathological gambling. Psychiatry Res. 2006;141(3):295-303.

Dannon PN, Lowengrub K, et al. Pathological gambling: a review of phenomenological models and treatment modalities for an underrecognized psychiatric disorder. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(6):334-339.

Kalechstein AD, Fong T, et al. Pathological gamblers demonstrate frontal lobe impairment consistent with that of methamphetamine dependent individuals. J Neuropsych Clin Neurosci. 2007;19(3):298-303.

Signs of a gambling problem. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2014.

10 questions about gambling behavior. Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado website. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2014.

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