Preoccupation with gambling and uncontrollable impulse to gamble, regardless of the problems caused in daily life.
The Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling reported that 61% of the U.S. population engaged in some form of gambling. The group also estimated that there were 1.1 million compulsive gamblers in the United States. While for many people gambling is a form of harmless recreation, for others it is an uncontrollable and all-consuming pursuit, often eclipsing everything else in their life. Some gamblers borrow or steal money when their funds run out; some lose their jobs and homes; and in almost all cases, their relationships with family and friends are aversely affected.
Pathological gambling is defined as a pattern of repeated gambling and preoccupation with gambling. The term was not included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980. Since then psychologists have proposed several theories as to why people gamble. For some, they state, it is a form of risk taking, which may be an inherent personality trait. For many others, it is the lure of a possible financial payoff. Psychologists are still unsure, however, why some gamblers become pathological gamblers. Some psychiatrists have proposed the "disease model," stating that, like alcoholism, gambling is a disease or a sickness of the mind. Behaviorists, on the other hand, see it as a learned, conditioned response. Because gamblers are reinforced intermittently—winning one hand and losing the next—they are motivated to keep playing until they receive a positive reinforcement. Various research studies have shown that any behavior that is tied to partial schedules of reinforcement are extremely difficult to stop.
Pathological gambling often begins in adolescence in males, and somewhat later in females. Individuals with this disorder often experience a progression in their gambling, becoming increasingly preoccupied with gambling, increasing the amounts wagered, and often continuing to gamble despite attempts to stop or control the behavior.
Unfortunately, pathological gambling is often difficult to treat, but there are several treatment options. Perhaps the most widely practiced treatment is group therapy, such as is found in Gambler's Anonymous. Pain aversion therapy has also been used, in which a electric shock is associated with gambling. In another therapy called paradoxical intention, the therapist orders the client to gamble according to a strict schedule, whether the gambler wants to or not.
See also Impulse control disorders