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Impulse Control Disorders - Pathological Gambling

Updated on July 9, 2017

The next category or third type of impulse control disorder is pathological gambling and it is comparable to an extremely strong addiction to gambling and to some extent comparable to other addictions like smoking, drinking or drug abuse.

With impulse control disorders however it is important to keep in mind that like all other impulse control disorders it is a natural inability to resist and not something that has been stimulated or precipitated by external factors. Looking at it in this manner may help us isolate pathological gambling from other addictions.

Smoking addictions for example are caused by inhaling cigarette smoke and other chemical substances that are used in the making of cigarettes. Likewise drinking addictions are a result of repetitive drinking that has caused chemical changes in the brain to occur.

These changes have an impact on the senses and the more a person or individual drinks, the more he or she will be sensually gratified or the more pleasure he or she will derive. The changes are so severe that when the person or individual abstains from drinking he or she may suffer from withdrawal symptoms for example jittery hands or other symptoms caused by a lack of alcohol in the system.

Likewise, drug addiction is described as a chronic brain disease that stimulates compulsive drug seeking. It is a complexity that affects that brain but unlike pathological gambling it is precipitated by the victim’s own actions i.e. his or her intake of narcotics or narcotic substances.

Pathological gambling is dissimilar to the 3 addictions mentioned above in that it is not triggered by an intake or consumption of external products. It is an innate disability that is triggered by the brain’s inability to resist specific impulses but it leads to the same damaging results like alcoholism and drug addictions for example financial problems, job loss, family tensions and even crime or fraud. Having said that, people have become so health conscious that even smoking can lead to family problems.

Pathological gambling is not an issue, as some sources perceive it to be, of will power and it may be easier to understand it if we treat it like an illness.

It is a problem that only becomes evident during the late teens i.e. once a person or an individual becomes aware of what gambling really is. Therefore a perfectly happy child can develop a gambling problem in his or her later 20s because no-one is aware that the problem is actually there and it generally continues until the mid 40s.

It is only when a person becomes exposed to gambling that we become aware that he or she has a problem and this is one of the reasons why there are sometimes calls to ban easy access gambling centers or outlets especially when it comes to slot machines, something which a lot of people tend to get hooked on to. Exposure to gambling may increase the risk of developing pathological gambling and limiting exposure may help prevent it from occurring.

Pathological gambling may be hereditary or inherited. A University of Iowa study confirms that pathological gambling runs in families and shows that first-degree relatives of pathological gamblers are eight times more likely to develop the problem than relatives of people without a history of pathological gambling. The study also suggests that “pathological gambling may share an underlying genetic predisposition with other disorders”.

Studies show that there is a genetic component to gambling problems and it is present in both men and women. It further suggests that if either parent is addicted to gambling than the children may be as well. It is also possible that some communities are more prone to gambling disorders than others because it is more acceptable in their communities.

Pathological gambling may cause or result in problems other than placing a strain on finances and familial ties or bonds i.e. divorce, bankruptcy and in extreme cases where fraud has been established, a possible jail sentence.

It can also lead to alcohol associated or drug related problems and cause anxiety or depression. These problems may lead to other health problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks and in extreme cases may also lead a person to take his or her own life.

© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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