Pathological Gambling


Whether it is buying a Lotto ticket, betting on horses or sports events or putting a coin in the pokies, many people gamble at some time. But when gambling becomes an addiction, it can cause harm to the person, their family and society. Pathological gambling, also known as compulsive or disordered gambling, is a mental health condition that can have devastating consequences. It is a progressive and chronic illness that affects a person’s ability to control their urges. Approximately 1-2% of adults have a diagnosable pathological gambling problem. The condition is not currently treated with medications, but a combination of treatment strategies can improve outcomes.

There are a number of factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing gambling problems. These include:

Age. Compulsive gambling often starts during adolescence or early adulthood, and the younger a person is when they start to gamble, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem. It is also more common in men than in women, and the more a woman gambles, the more likely they are to develop compulsion. Interestingly, it seems that people with more education are less at risk of developing a gambling problem than those without any education or training.

Sex. Historically, women have been less likely to develop a gambling problem than men, but this is changing. It appears that males may be predisposed to the development of gambling disorders, particularly with strategic and face-to-face forms of gambling such as poker or blackjack, but females are more likely to have a problem with nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling such as bingo or slot machines.

Family and peer influence. It is important to have a strong support network when struggling with any type of addiction. It is also helpful to find healthy ways to deal with unpleasant emotions and boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or taking up a hobby.

It is also important to set limits in relation to your gambling. This includes setting a bankroll, and deciding ahead of time how much you are willing to spend or lose. It is also important to avoid chasing lost money as this can only lead to more losses. It is also useful to learn about the game you are playing, so that you understand how it works and what your chances of winning are.

If you are concerned about a loved one’s gambling habits, it is important to seek help. Seek professional advice from a psychologist or psychiatrist who specialises in gambling addiction, and consider joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous). Also, try to limit your exposure to the problem gambler by not visiting casinos or other gambling venues. If you are a family member or carer of a problem gambler, you should also try to take over the management of the household finances to protect your own credit and savings. This will make the person responsible for their own spending decisions and prevent them from hiding or justifying their requests for “just this once”. This article is adapted from a Health Channel fact sheet.