compulsive gambling or pathological gambling, a psychological disorder characterized by a persistent inability to resist the impulse to gamble. The disorder is progressive and typically results in difficulties in one's personal, social, and work life; it may lead to bankruptcy or criminal activity to obtain money. The prevalence of compulsive gambling in the United States has increased with that of gambling itself, and it has been estimated that up to 3% of the adult population may gamble pathologically.
Most gamblers are able to stay within reasonable limits in the amounts they gamble. Compulsive gamblers tend to lose control of the amounts they risk and cannot stop gambling even when they continue to lose. Although money is important to them, they often say they are looking for "action," an excited or euphoric state comparable to the "high"of drug abuse. They often use gambling as a way of escaping from problems in daily life or from feelings of depression or anxiety. Eventually, compulsive gamblers may engage in forgery, theft, or other crimes to provide money for continued gambling or to alleviate a desperate financial situation resulting from gambling losses.
Compulsive gambling is a highly treatable disorder. For many, psychotherapy and active participation in Gamblers Anonymous, a support group with local chapters patterned on Alcoholics Anonymous, have proven effective.
See F. Barthelme and S. Barthelme, Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss (1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.