Pathological gambling is characterised by a compulsion to gamble and is similar to disorders such as kleptomania. Pathological gambling is categorised as an impulse control disorder, which is classed as a mental health problem. A pathological gambler will have an extremely strong urge to gamble even if they know what they are doing is wrong or they want to give up.
A person may be diagnosed with a pathological gambling habit if they fit more than five of the following criteria; the criteria were published in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
- Preoccupation: the individual constantly thinks about gambling.
- Tolerance: the individual becomes increasingly tolerant to gambling and starts to spend more money and take more risks to get the same ‘rush’; this is similar to someone with alcohol dependency.
- Withdrawal: the individual suffers withdrawal symptoms if they go for a while without gambling; commonly, people with gambling problems get irritable and restless when they don’t gamble on a regular basis.
- Escape: the individual uses gambling as a means of escaping the real world.
- Chasing: the individual will continue to gamble if they have lost money to try and win it back.
- Lying: the individual lies about the gravity of their gambling habit to loved ones and tries to disguise their addiction.
- Loss of control: the individual cannot cut down on gambling, even if they want to.
- Illegal acts: the individual breaks the law to get money to gamble or make money back following a loss; these acts may include theft and fraud.
- Risked significant relationship: the individual continues to gamble even though they know a significant relationship is at risk.
- Bailout: an individual asks friends, family or a third party for help with repaying gambling debts.
Pathological gambling affects around 1 percent of the U.S population. The percentage is believed to be considerably lower in the UK but an exact figure is not known.
Treatment for pathological gambling will usually differ from treatments for problem gambling. This is because pathological gambling has been identified as a mental health condition.