Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, may be a type of impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed. Even when they know the odds are against them, even when they can’t afford to lose, people with a gambling addiction can’t “stay off the bet.” Problem and pathological gambling may affect anywhere from 2 to 4 percent of the population.

Warning Signs of Gambling Addiction

Pathological gambling can strike any family at any time. Many times, friends and family may not be aware of the gambling problem until two or more of the following warning signs become evident:

  • Secrecy over money and finances
  • New desire to control household finances
  • Overdue or unpaid bills
  • Unexplained loans or cash advances
  • Lack of money, despite the same income and expenses
  • Unusual increase in credit card activity
  • Asking friends and family for money
  • Missing jewelry, cash or valuables
  • Dwindling savings or assets
  • Missing bank or credit card statements
  • Calls or letters from bill collectors
  • Unexplained cash, especially when there are unpaid bills

Risk Factors for Gambling Addiction

There are a number of risk factors for pathological gambling. The younger one begins gambling, or by having a “Big Win” early on, the greater risk one is at for later being diagnosed with a gambling addiction. Pathological gambling also strikes more men than women, but women have a more rapid progression once they start.

The closer one is to a casino is, not surprising, also a risk factor, as are other pre-existing conditions, such as a substance disorder, alcholism, a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder, and certain types of personality disorders. If one’s parents gamble extensively (whether or not they have a diagnosed problem), the greater one is at risk for pathological gambling.

Certain medications are also associated as a potential risk factor for gambling addiction. Medications for Parkinson’s disease, for example, have been implicated — specifically dopamine agonists such as pramipexole (Mirapex).