Once referred to as compulsive or pathological gambling, gambling disorder is currently the only behavioral addiction included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Previously, pathological gambling was classified as an “impulse control disorder.” In the DSM-5, pathological gambling was renamed to gambling disorder and moved to a new category “addiction and related disorders.”
Not all people who gamble have a problem, and in fact there are several types of gamblers, including professional and social gamblers. However, there are certain key characteristics that people with gambling addictions tend to share. Knowing the signs can help ensure that you or someone you love gets help and gets on the road to recovery.
Signs of Compulsive Gambling
Gambling disorder involves maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that the individual persists with, despite negative consequences. This is consistent with behavior patterns observed in other addictions.
Signs of pathological gambling include:
Preoccupation with gambling
Difficulty controlling gambling behavior, and unsuccessful efforts to stop
Negative consequences, such as family and job disruption, and lying about the extent of involvement with gambling
Financial problems due to gambling, gambling with increasing amounts of money to achieve desired excitement and stealing money to fund gambling.
Money is central to the experience of gambling. People with gambling addiction, as with other people, attach many different positive attributes to money, such as power, comfort, security and freedom. Unlike other people, they fail to recognize that gambling puts them at risk of losing all of these attributes and that gambling is a random process, where the odds are stacked against them, so they are more likely to lose than to win.
Furthermore, when they do win, people with gambling addictions tend to gamble away their winnings quickly.
How Gambling Disorder Is Defined According to Psychiatrists
A gambling disorder can result from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors, many of which are still being researched. Some of the most common risk factors include.
Age Individuals under age 35 as well as seniors are more prone to developing a gambling addiction than their younger counterparts.
Gender: Gambling disorder is prevalent among 4.2% of men compared to 2.9% of women.Genetics.
Family history has been found to play a role in pathological gambling, with first-degree relatives of compulsive gamblers more likely to develop a gambling disorder than those with no family history.Mental health.More than 95% of people with a gambling disorder also meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use disorders, and personality disorders.
Rates of alcohol use disorder are roughly five to six times greater among individuals with a gambling disorder.4
Military status: Studies show that veterans have higher rates of gambling disorder than the general population, and these rates are even higher if they also have cooccurring mental health conditions like PTSD, substance use disorder, and suicidality.5
Personality Various personality traits have been linked with gambling disorder, including being impulsive and highly competitive.
Gambling is an ineffective and unreliable way of acquiring money. For someone to become addicted to gambling, their cognitions or thought processes must become distorted to the point where this central truth eludes them. Some researchers classify the cognitive distortions of gambling pathology into three categories: incorrect understanding of probability, illusion of control, and superstitions.6
Here are a few ways the thoughts of people with a gambling problem are distorted:
Attribution Believing winnings occur as a result of their efforts and not randomly.
Chasing losses: Believing they have not really lost money to gambling, but that it can be “won back” by further gambling.
Magical thinking: Believing thinking or hoping in a certain way will bring about a win or that random outcomes can be predicted. They may also believe they are special in some way and that their specialness will be rewarded with a win.
Near miss beliefs Reducing the number of losing experiences in their minds by thinking they “almost” won. This justifies further attempts to win. Near misses can be as stimulating, or even more stimulating, than actual wins.
Personification of a gambling device: Attributing human characteristics to inanimate objects, which are part of the gambling process, thinking that a particular machine is punishing, rewarding or taunting them.
Selective recallb Remembering their wins and forgetting or glossing over their losses. Superstitions Believing that lucky charms, certain articles of clothing, ways of sitting, etc., may cause a win or a loss.
Systems Believing that by learning or figuring out a certain system (a pattern of betting in a particular way), the house advantage can be overcome. The increased computerization of gambling machinery has ensured that wins are now truly random, so it is impossible to predict a payout, and, of course, it is still heavily stacked in favor of the “house.”
Many of these thought distortions lead to highly ritualized patterns of behavior, which are characteristic of addictions.