Gambling Addiction (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What are causes and risk factors for gambling addiction?

When contemplating why people gamble, it is important to understand that there is usually no one specific cause for pathological gambling. Some potential exceptions include the observation that some individuals who are given medications that treat Parkinson's disease or restless legs syndrome (including pramipexole [Mirapex]) have been observed to develop impulse-control disorders like compulsive gambling, shopping, or sexual behaviors. The theory about that connection involves the increased activity of the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain. Another example where compulsive gambling may have a single cause is in bipolar disorder since exorbitant spending, including in the form of compulsive gambling, may be a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Much more commonly, gambling addiction, like most other emotional conditions, is understood to be the result of a combination of biological vulnerabilities, ways of thinking, and social stressors (biopsychosocial model). There are, however, elements that increase the likelihood that the individual will develop a gambling addiction. Risk factors for developing pathological gambling include schizophrenia, mood problems, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol or cocaine addiction. People who suffer from compulsive gambling have a tendency to be novelty seekers, feel disconnected (dissociated), relaxed, or aroused while gambling or playing video games. Individuals who have a low level of serotonin in the brain are also thought to be at higher risk for developing pathological gambling compared to others.

What are symptoms and signs of a gambling addiction?

Comment on this

Pathological gambling involves persistent and recurring problem gambling that includes several of the following symptoms that are not the result of another mental-health problem, like during a manic episode:

  • A preoccupation with gambling, either by reliving past gambling, planning for future gambling experiences, and/or thinking of ways to secure money to finance gambling
  • Needing more and more money for gambling in order to achieve the desired level of gambling enjoyment
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or reduce betting behaviors
  • Becoming uneasy or easily irritated when trying to reduce or stop gambling
  • Gambling for the purpose of escaping problems or to relieve sadness or anxiety
  • Returning to gambling after losing money in an effort to recoup losses
  • Lying to family or other loved ones, mental-health professionals, or others in an effort to hide the extent of the gambling behavior
  • Committing crimes (for example, stealing, fraud, or forgery) in an effort to finance gambling
  • Risking important relationships, employment, or other opportunities due to gambling
  • Depending on others for money to resolve dire financial situations that are the result of gambling
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/26/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Gambling Disorders - Causes and Risks Question: If known, what was the cause of your gambling disorder? Did you have a risk factor?
Gambling Disorders - Signs and Symptoms Question: Please discuss the signs and symptoms associated with your gambling disorder.
Gambling Disorders - Diagnosis Question: Describe the events that led to a gambling disorder diagnosis.
Gambling Disorders - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment helped you with your gambling disorder? What medications, if any, did you use?