Pathological gambling or more commonly known as gambling addiction / compulsive gambling is a serious disorder that could lead to personal and social harm and in ultimate cases, suicide. In the United States, it is estimated that 86% of the total population have gambled at some point in their life while 60% of the population gamble a year. Each year, 1% of the total adult population is identified as afflicted with pathological gambling while 2-3% are said to be at great risk.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is a criterion to help determine if a person has a pathological gambling problem. Certain signs are to be watched out for such as: committing of crimes to fuel gambling needs; restlessness and irritability upon cessation of gambling; gambles as a way to deal with stress or anxiety; not knowing when to quit gambling, bets seem to get higher and higher whether in winning or losing situations; numerous failed attempts at quitting gambling; has lost or risked important aspects of his life (such as job, family, studies) due to gambling; has lied about the money lost on gambling; has acquired debts due to his gambling; feels the need to gamble larger and larger amounts of money to get a high; and has spent an inordinate amount of time thinking and scheming about his gambling activities.
The treatment of pathological gambling must begin with the victim himself. Denial more often than not accompanies this type of addiction and before any significant change can take place, the victim must acknowledge within himself that there is indeed a problem.
Group therapy is one of the most popular forms of treating gambling addiction. Gamblers Anonymous is one such program, where the victims are put into a 12-step program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. Some are advocating for the use of medications in treating the disorder such as antidepressants, however, there has been no formal study to support the effectiveness and safety of this kind of treatment.
Left untreated, pathological gambling can lead to severe problems including alcohol and drug abuse, chronic depression, social problems, financial problems, and in dire instances, even death by suicide.
Pathological gambling, similar to other addictions, can be a very disruptive disorder that tends to get worse if treatment is not sought. It is very important that when signs of gambling addiction are seen on a loved one, proper intervention is taken to prevent the victim from further deteriorating.