Pathological Gambling Definition and Symptoms

Pathological gambling is a brain disorder that is defined as the failure to struggle against gambling impulses. The individual afflicted with this disease occasionally suffers from severe personal or social problems. Pathological gambling can also be called compulsive gambling or addictive gambling.

This disease of the brain affects 1 to 2 percent of the adult population, with that figure jumping to 4 percent for adults who live within a 50 mile radius of any casino. There is no gender distinction for this disease. Both men and women can be afflicted with compulsive gambling. Typically, men develop signs and symptoms of pathological gambling during their early adolescence. For women, it takes place between ages 20 and 40.

Brain disorders like drug or alcohol addiction seem to have certain similarities to pathological gambling on how they affect the brain. The part of the brain that is associated with these type of disorders is commonly called the “pleasure center”, otherwise known as the dopamine reward pathway. Other behaviors that fall into this category include eating and sex.

For people who are afflicted with pathological gambling, the process usually involves stages of occasional gambling which would eventually lead to habitual gambling with the associated inability to control their gambling impulse. Addiction to gambling can be made more severe by stressful situations and experiences.

Pathological gambling is a sensitive issue for individuals who have this disease. Like most alcoholics or drug addicts, the feeling of shame, embarrassment and guilt can often lead pathological gamblers to hide their problems from others, even from their own family members.

However, a definition of pathological gambling that can be used as a tool to assist in diagnosing individuals who may have this disease is offered by the American Psychiatric Association. This association defines pathological gambling as a disease that consists of five or more of the symptoms mentioned below.

The symptoms commonly associated with pathological gambling may include the following; the urge to gamble and spend larger amounts of money to feel excitement and exhilaration, numerous failed attempts to quit gambling, the use of gambling as an escape from problems or negative feelings, repeated attempts to chase losses, stealing or committing such acts to acquire gambling money, the urge to borrow money for the individual’s survival to replace losses from gambling, and a feeling of irritability or agitation when attempting to stop gambling or cut back activities associated with gambling.

If you or someone you know have five or more of the symptoms shown above, it’s best to look for guidance and help, to prevent or stop pathological gambling from taking over your life or theirs.