Compulsive gambling, also known as gambling disorder, is a condition characterized by an uncontrollable urge to continue gambling despite its negative impact on one’s life. Gambling involves risking something of value in the hope of gaining something of greater value. It can stimulate the brain’s reward system similar to drugs or alcohol, leading to addiction. For individuals with compulsive gambling, they may continuously chase bets, use up savings, and accumulate debt.

Compulsive gambling can be a serious and destructive condition, leading individuals to hide their behavior and resort to theft or fraud to support their addiction. However, many people have found help through professional treatment.


Signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling (gambling disorder) may include:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling and constantly planning gambling activities
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to experience the same thrill
  • Attempting to control, cut back, or stop gambling without success
  • Feeling restless or irritable when trying to cut down on gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve negative emotions such as guilt, anxiety, or depression
  • Chasing losses by gambling more to recoup lost money
  • Lying to others to conceal the extent of gambling
  • Risking important relationships, jobs, or educational opportunities due to gambling
  • Asking others for financial help after gambling away money

While casual gamblers may stop when losing or set limits on their losses, individuals with compulsive gambling problems are compelled to keep playing in an increasingly destructive pattern. Some may resort to theft or fraud to obtain gambling money.

Periods of remission, where gambling is reduced or stopped, may occur, but without treatment, remission is usually not permanent.

When to See a Doctor or Mental Health Professional

If family members, friends, or co-workers express concern about your gambling behavior, it’s essential to listen to their worries. Denial is common in compulsive or addictive behavior, making it challenging for individuals to recognize their problem.


The exact cause of compulsive gambling is not well understood, but it may result from a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors.

Risk Factors

While most people who gamble do not develop a gambling problem, certain factors are associated with compulsive gambling:

  • Mental health issues, such as substance misuse, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, or ADHD
  • Age, with compulsive gambling being more common in younger and middle-aged individuals
  • Sex, with men being more susceptible to compulsive gambling, although patterns are becoming more similar between genders
  • Influence of family or friends with gambling problems
  • Medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome, as some drugs may lead to compulsive behaviors
  • Certain personality characteristics, including high competitiveness, workaholism, impulsivity, restlessness, or boredom


Compulsive gambling can have severe and lasting consequences for individuals’ lives, such as relationship problems, financial issues, legal problems, poor work performance, poor general health, and even suicide or suicidal thoughts.


While there is no proven way to prevent gambling disorder, educational programs targeting individuals and groups at higher risk may be helpful. If you have risk factors for compulsive gambling, it’s essential to avoid gambling, people who gamble, and places where gambling occurs. Seeking treatment at the first sign of a problem can help prevent the worsening of the condition.

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If you suspect that you have a problem with compulsive gambling, it’s important to talk to your health care provider or seek help from a mental health professional for evaluation. The diagnosis process may involve:

  • Asking questions about your gambling habits and behaviors
  • Reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical exam
  • Conducting a mental health assessment to evaluate your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to gambling


Treating compulsive gambling can be challenging, as individuals may have a hard time admitting they have a problem. However, treatment is essential in regaining control and healing damaged relationships and finances. Treatment for compulsive gambling may include:

  • Therapy: Behavioral therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful. Behavioral therapy involves exposure to the behavior to unlearn it and teaches skills to reduce the urge to gamble. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on replacing unhealthy beliefs with healthy ones. Family therapy may also be beneficial.
  • Medications: Antidepressants and mood stabilizers may treat co-occurring conditions like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Some antidepressants may also reduce gambling behavior. Narcotic antagonists, used in substance misuse treatment, may help with compulsive gambling.
  • Self-help groups: Talking with others who have a gambling problem can be helpful. Resources like Gamblers Anonymous may be beneficial.
  • Structured internet-based programs and telephone visits: These self-help treatments can be an option for some individuals.

Additional treatment for co-occurring issues like substance misuse, depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems may also be included in the treatment plan for compulsive gambling.

Relapse Prevention

Even with treatment, the risk of returning to gambling may persist, especially when in the presence of gambling triggers. If you feel you may relapse, contact your mental health provider or sponsor promptly to prevent it.

Coping and Support

Recovery skills that may help resist urges to gamble include:

  • Staying focused on the goal of not gambling
  • Acknowledging that gambling is too risky and avoiding it altogether
  • Seeking help and support from family or friends
  • Avoiding situations that trigger the urge to gamble

Counseling can also be beneficial for family members, even if the individual with a gambling problem is unwilling to participate in therapy.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you’ve decided to seek help for compulsive gambling, it’s an important first step. Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Feelings and triggers related to your gambling
  • Major stresses or recent life changes
  • Medications, supplements, and dosages you’re taking
  • Other physical or mental health problems and treatments
  • Questions to ask your provider to make the most of your appointment

During your appointment, be prepared to answer questions about your gambling habits, its impact on your life, and your readiness to seek treatment.

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