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Understanding Pathological Gambling

Updated on May 20, 2014

Gambling defined

Gambling is defined as wagering on games or events in which change largely determines the outcome. The ancient Chinese wagered hairs of their head or even fingers, toes and limbs on games of chance ,while the Mojave Indians wagered their wives. Regardless, gambling has occurred and continues to occur among all social strata.

Pathological Gambling


A professional perspective

Gambling takes many forms from casino gambling, to betting on horse races, to numbers games, lotteries, dice, bingo and cards. Even playing the stock market might be considered a game of chance.

Pathological gamblers are habitual losers who are always out of luck, usually in debt and sometimes in jail. They tend to be of average intelligience or above and many have completed one or more years of tertiary education. In many instances they are married and often have responsible managerial or professional positions earning themselves a reasonable income.

The causes of pathological gambling

When Sigmund Freud used the compulsive gambling of Doestoevsky as an example, he concluded that such gamblers were guilt ridden mashocists who wanted to be published. He also emphasized Dostoevsky’s hatred of his father and subsequent guilt feelings of his father’s murder when he was eighteen years old.

Pathological gambling seems to be a learned pattern that is highly resistant and the individual usually becomes addicted after winning a substantial amount of money the first time. The reinforcement an individual receives during this introductory phase is a significant factor in future pathological gambling despite excessive losses since anyone is likely to win from time to time.

Pathological gamblers often dissipate earnings, neglect their families, default on bills and borrow money friends and loan companies. They would soon resort to writing bad cheques, embezzlement or other illegal means of obtaining money, constantly reminding themselves that their luck will change. They tend to be rebellious, unconventional individuals who do not seem to fully understand the ethical norms of society. These desperate men are unrealistic in the thinking and prone to seek highly stimulating situations and love excitement and “need action”.

According to a psychological test performance of pathological gamblers with that of alcoholics and drug addicts, the three groups showed very similar characteristics. These individuals were self-centred, narcissistic, tense, nervous and anxious, pessimistic, brooding and overreacted to stress. Furthermore, they were characterized by acting-out, impulsive behavior, periodic outbursts of anger, frustrated with the lack of achievement, were reluctant to open up emotionally for fear of being hurt, showed superficial remorse and were passive-dependant and manipulative. These similarities suggest that their personality characteristics may be involved as predisposing factors in the three disorders.


Treatment approaches would include group psychotherapy, aversion therapy, covert sensitization and cognitive behavioural therapy. A small percentage of pathological gamblers resort to membership in Gamblers Anonymous groups eventually, however, only a small fraction do overcome their addiction to gambling.

What is a gambling disorder?


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