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Compulsive Gambling

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Compulsive Gambling

(Gambling Addiction; Pathological Gambling)


Compulsive gambling is an overwhelming urge to gamble. People with this disorder are addicted to gambling. It can cause serious problems in their lives.


The cause of compulsive gambling is not known. Genes may play a role.

Gambling addiction causes changes in the brain. These brain changes are like those that occur in people who are addicted to drugs.

Frontal Lobe.

Impulse control is believed to exist in this part of the brain.

Frontal lobehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=73017301si2120.jpgsi2120.jpgNULLjpgsi2120.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si2120.jpgNULL74NULL2008-11-073744007301_222876Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Compulsive gambling is more common in males. Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family history of gambling problems
  • Mood disorders and personality disorders
  • Drug abuse or gambling at a young age
  • Certain traits such as being competitive, restless, and easily bored


Symptoms of compulsive gambling may be:

  • Gambling longer than intended
  • Using work or family life to gamble
  • Feeling guilty after gambling
  • Lying to hide gambling
  • Problems sleeping—due to thoughts about gambling
  • Having money problems due to gambling
  • Trying to quit gambling but not being able to
  • Feeling depressed or suicidal due to gambling


The person may be referred to a mental health therapist. The therapist will ask about the person's:

  • Symptoms
  • Health and mental health history


The goal is to stop gambling. Underlying mental health conditions may also need treatment. Options may be:

  • Counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy—to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Antidepressants
    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
    • Mood stabilizers
    • Opioid antagonists


There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. People with impulse control problems are most at risk. They should avoid gambling.





  • Gambling problem signs. Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling website. Available at: https://macgh.org/resources/signs-of-a-gambling-problem.
  • Ioannidis K, Hook R, et al. Impulsivity in gambling disorder and problem gambling: a meta-analysis. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(8):1354-1361.
  • Overview of cluster B personality disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/overview-of-cluster-b-personality-disorders.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.