What Is Compulsive Gambling?

Moderate gambling, like moderate alcohol use, is an accepted part of our culture and causes no problems. As with alcohol use, however, gambling to excess is a common weakness that may lead to serious security problems.

Compulsive gambling, or pathological gambling as most psychiatrists prefer to call it, is an inability to stop gambling even when one recognizes that gambling is causing serious financial, family, work, or other problems.

Compulsive gambling parallels alcohol and drug addiction in many ways. Compulsive gamblers lose control over their behavior and commonly lie and cheat in order to continue their gambling. They frequently try, unsuccessfully, to cut down or quit.

Compulsive gambling does not involve use of a psychoactive substance, but the “action” which compulsive gamblers crave is an aroused, euphoric state comparable to the “high” sought by drug users. This aroused state is accompanied by changes in brain chemistry similar to those caused by alcohol or drugs. There may be a “rush,” often characterized by sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, and nausea which is experienced during the period of anticipation.

Alcoholics and drug abusers develop “tolerance” for their drug of choice and then must increase their consumption in order to feel the same effects. Similarly, compulsive gamblers develop “tolerance” for the “action” and must increase the size of their bets or the odds against them to create the same amount of excitement.

About 2 1/2% of the adult population now has some degree of gambling problem. The rates of compulsive and problem gambling among 16 and 17 year olds are similar to those for adults.

The key difference between compulsive or problem gambling and social gambling is self-control. Each social gambling session usually lasts for a set period of time and involves pre-determined spending limits. It typically occurs with friends or colleagues rather than alone. The player gains satisfaction whether he/she wins or loses.

The key to gambling is money management and gambling in moderation. If you think you have a problem, seek help.

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