Definition: Gambling Disorder (GD) is characterized by a persistent and a repeating dysfunctional pattern of gambling behavior. It is typically associated with impaired functioning, reduced quality of life and high rates of bankruptcy, divorce, and incarceration. Gambling Disorder usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, with males tending to start at an earlier age. Women represent about 32% of individuals with GD in the U.S. Gambling Disorder seems to follow the same trajectory as substance dependence with high rates in adolescent and young adults groups, lower rates in older adults, and periods of abstinence and relapse. GD most commonly occurs with substance use disorder, anxiety disorder, and depressive disorder.

Symptoms: The symptoms of Gambling Disorder include a persistent and recurring gambling behavior that leads to significant impairment or distress as indicated by the individual exhibiting four or more of the following behaviors in a 12 month period:

  • Needs to gamble with more and more money in order to gain the desired level of excitement (tolerance)
  • Is restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling (withdrawal)
  • Has made repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling
  • Is often preoccupied with gambling
  • Often gambles when feeling distressed
  • After losing money gambling, often returns another day to try to get even
  • Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
  • Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling
  • Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling

Causes: There are no known biological causes of gambling disorder. People may have significant psychological causes for excessive gambling. They may use it as an emotional escape from depression. Some seek the mood alteration highs, excitement, and energy from gambling more than the money. Excessive gamblers have been described as highly competitive people who are restless and easily bored. People who gamble are usually very superstitious and those superstitions reinforce the addiction. One of the reasons GD has become recognized is because of the severe consequences to the individual and their families. They literally gamble away everything they own and, in addition to crippling debt, many of them can become suicidal.