There is much controversy regarding the classification of problematic gambling. For example, in the US the American Psychological Association do not view gambling as an addiction but as an impulse control disorder. The phrase that is now being used to describe the condition is pathological gambling.
Whatever label is used to describe the problem there is a significant number of people who run into problems with gambling and its effects can have devastating consequences on the person gambling and those around him/her, particularly family.
A UK study in 2007 estimated that 0.6% of the adult population had a problem with gambling. Problem gamblers often develop characteristics which are now being used as diagnostic criteria for this condition. These include the following:
- Preoccupation. The subject has frequent thoughts about gambling experiences, whether past, future, or fantasy.
- Tolerance. As with drug tolerance the subject requires larger or more frequent wagers to experience the same “rush”.
- Withdrawal. Restlessness or irritability associated with attempts to cease or reduce gambling.
- Escape. The subject gambles to improve mood or escape problems.
- Chasing. The subject tries to win back gambling losses with more gambling.
- Lying. The subject tries to hide the extent of his or her gambling by lying to family, friends, or therapists.
- Loss of control. The person has unsuccessfully attempted to reduce gambling.
- Illegal acts. The person has broken the law in order to obtain gambling money or recover gambling losses. This may include acts of theft, embezzlement, fraud or forgery.
- Risked significant relationship. The person gambles despite risking or losing a relationship, job, or other significant opportunity.
- Bailout. The person turns to family, friends, or another third party for financial assistance as a result of gambling.
There is now emerging evidence that pathological gambling is a condition similar to chemical addiction.