Compulsive gambling is an impulse control disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to gamble. In compulsive gambling, your life becomes dominated by gambling, which can lead to problems with finances, career, and relationships. Compulsive gambling can be treated, so talk with your healthcare provider if you think you have a problem.


It is not clear what causes compulsive gambling, but there is some evidence for a genetic component (that is inherited from one or both parents).

Using neuropsychological testing, researchers found that the changes in the frontal lobe of the brain in people with gambling addiction are identical to the changes found in people who are addicted to drugs (methamphetamine).

Frontal Lobe

Frontal lobe
Impulse control is believed to exist in this part of the brain.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing compulsive gambling. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Gender: male
  • Family history of gambling problems
  • Family history of antisocial personality disorder
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse or gambling at a young age
  • Certain traits, such as having a competitive character, being restless, and getting bored easily


Symptoms of compulsive gambling may include:

  • Recurrent gambling
  • Gambling despite negative consequences
  • Financial burdens
  • Inability to maintain a career
  • Breakdown of family relationships


Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional who will ask you about your symptoms and mental and medical health history. If he or she determines you are a compulsive gambler, a treatment plan will be recommended.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:


Counseling for compulsive gambling may include cognitive-behavioral therapy . This type of therapy can help you learn to correct the irrational or dysfunctional beliefs that lead you to gamble, find alternate responses to stress, develop social skills, and prevent relapse. Counseling can also help uncover what lead you to compulsively gamble.


There is some evidence that people who compulsively gamble may benefit from medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, mood stabilizers, opioid antagonists, and bupropion (an antidepressant and smoking cessation medication).


There is no known way to prevent compulsive gambling. But if you have a problem with impulse control, avoiding situations where there is gambling may prevent you from developing a problem.