Pathological gambling

Understanding Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is defined as being unable to resist the urge to gamble and not being able to ignore the impulse to keep playing. This can lead to severe personal and social consequences and can affect every facet of a player’s life, from at home to at work, and everywhere in between.

Pathological gambling generally begins in early adolescence in men and in between the ages of 20 and 40 in woman. Underage gambling also has close ties with creating pathological gamblers and in spurring on addiction too.

Pathological gambling generally involves repetitive behavioural patterns and manifests in a way that makes stopping gambling hard. The ability to resist the impulse to gamble become impossible to control and can be similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Symptoms

People who develop pathological gambling habits may struggle generally with impulse control or may have a low self esteem and weak resolve. They also often are embarrassed about their problem and although they recognise it, they are unable to stop or seek help. The American Psychiatric Association has drawn up a list of symptoms relating to pathological gamblers and if 5 or more of these present themselves, a person most certainly has a problem.

  • Restlessness or irritability when not able to gamble, trying to cut back or quit.
  • Committing a crime to fund a gambling habit.
  • Gambling to escape negative emotions.
  • Losing out on a career opportunity or even a job due to gambling.
  • Destructive behaviour in interpersonal relationships due to time or money spent gambling.
  • Chasing losses obsessively.
  • Lying about gambling habits.
  • Unsuccessfully quitting or cutting back.
  • Borrowing money to cover losses.
  • Betting increasingly larger sums of money in order to feel any sort of thrill.
  • Obsessively thinking about gambling to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Neglecting friends, family and social responsibilities to gamble.

Gamblers Anonymous also has a list of 20 questions that are similar, that can be used to identify whether or not someone gambles pathologically.

Treatment

As with all additions, pathological gambling can only begin to be treated when the player admits they have a problem and actually wants help. If a player I in denial or does not want to change, they will be resistant and the chances are they wont be keen on seeking assistance and changing their ways. Unfortunately, it often takes a large, life-changing event, an intervention or serious pressure for pathological gambler to seek help.

Treatment options can include cognitive behavioural therapy, attending self-help support groups such as the 12 step program, Gamblers Anonymous. GA relies on the same treatment principles as Alcoholic Anonymous, and has proven to be very successful, providing the program is stuck to. In some cases prescription medication may also be used to hep control impulses and OCD tendencies, but its not yet clear whether this will help treat the symptoms of pathological gambling properly, or if it has long term effects.

Just like alcoholism, pathological gambling is a long-term addiction and is considered an illness too. Many players relapse and have to start treatment again, but there are many successful cases where a full recovery has been made and the habit broken for good.