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Pathological gambling disorder occurs when a person gambles compulsively to such an extent that the wagering has a severe negative effect on his or her job, relationships, mental health, or other important aspects of life. The person may continue to gamble even after they have developed social, economic, interpersonal, or legal problems as a result of the gambling.
Pathological gambling disorder is characterized by uncontrollable gambling well beyond the point of a social or recreational activity, such that the gambling has a major disruptive effect on the gambler's life. People who are pathological gamblers may lose their life savings, and may even commit crimes (stealing, embezzling, or forging checks) to get money for their "habit." Relationships and jobs may also be lost as a result of the disorder.
Pathological gambling disorder is an example of a process, or behavioral, addiction, as distinct from an addiction to such substances as food, drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. In process addictions, the characteristic "rush" or "high" comes from the series of steps or actions that are involved in the addictive behavior. With gambling, the "high" may be stimulated by the social atmosphere or group setting of the casino, race track, or bingo hall as well as by the excitement of risk-taking. Some gamblers have a "lucky" outfit, item of clothing, or accessory that they wear or take along when gambling; sometimes putting on the outfit or item in question is enough to start the "rush."
People with pathological gambling disorder may engage in many different types of gambling activities. These may include games of chance that are found in casinos, such as slot machines, card games, and roulette. Many of these games are now available on the Internet, the chief difference being that the bettor uses a credit card instead of cash or chips. Other gambling activities may include the state lottery, horse or dog racing, or even bingo. The person may place bets on the outcome of an election, baseball or football games, or even the weather on a particular day. Pathological gambling usually develops slowly over time; people tend to begin with acceptable levels of social or recreational gambling and slowly progress to pathological gambling. In most cases the disorder develops slowly over a period of years; however, there are cases of patients who gambled socially for decades and then began to gamble compulsively under the impact of a major life stressor, such as divorce or being laid off from work.
Author Info: Tish Davidson A.M., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2003
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