Pathological gambling

Alternative Names

Gambling – compulsive; Compulsive gambling; Addictive gambling

Definition of Pathological gambling

Pathological gambling is being unable to resist impulses to gamble, which can lead to severe personal or social consequences.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Pathological gambling usually begins in early adolescence in men, and between ages 20 and 40 in women.

Symptoms

People with pathological gambling often feel ashamed and try to avoid letting others know of their problem. The American Psychiatric Association defines pathological gambling as having five or more of the following symptoms:

Signs and tests

A psychiatric evaluation and history can be used to diagnose pathological gambling. Screening tools such as the Gamblers Anonymous 20 Questions can help with the diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment for people with pathological gambling begins with recognizing the problem. Pathological gambling is often associated with denial. People with the illness often refuse to accept that they have a problem or need treatment.

Expectations (prognosis)

Like alcohol or drug addiction, pathological gambling is a chronic disorder that tends to get worse without treatment. Even with treatment, it’s common to start gambling again (relapse). However, people with pathological gambling can do very well with the right treatment.

Review

Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michelle Benger Merrill, MD, Instructor in Clinical Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 2/18/2010

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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