Pathological gambling is the term used to signify problem gambling that already qualifies recognition and diagnosis as a full-fledged mental disorder. This is when problem gambling turns into a chronic and progressive disease, which, when left untreated, results in the destruction of meaningful relationships with other people that the gambler may have enjoyed previously.
This disease has been recognized by the American Psychological Association since the 1980s, and characterizes it as a “disorder of impulse control.” The persistent, maladaptive gambling behavior by a person steep in pathological gambling may be identified by some indicators that they have identified.
Indicators of Pathological Gambling
Preoccupation with gambling and gambling-related activities
Preoccupation with gambling means that the gambler, when he is not directly gambling, is also fixated by thoughts of how to acquire more money, where to bet and how much handicap he or she can afford, or when he last won and how that felt. This preoccupation leaves the gambler in a state of mind that is seemingly focused on gambling, with each sensory impulse analyzed and fitted into the framework of a gambling round. This is particularly evident when the gambler begins citing parallelisms between events occurring—relating to gambling or not—and of previous victories or losses he or she may have experienced.
Tolerance level for thrill-seeking satisfaction
A regular gambler enjoys the satisfaction of betting any amount he or she can afford at the moment and relishes in the possibility that it may be returned to some extent. Pathological gamblers require a particular amount of money to be placed on the pot in a bet and a particular level of returns to their bets before they are fully satisfied. Anything less than the amount they see fit—this amount being exorbitantly massive—is something from which they cannot derive any pleasure or satisfaction from.
Inability to withdraw
This is where previously mentioned compulsions fall under. The inability to withdraw from gambling is characterized by a general irritability or unexplainable anger when the gambler is asked to stop gambling or lessen the amount of time and money they dedicate to gambling.
Escapism in Gambling
Pathological gambling also burgeons from the person’s use of gambling as a means to escape from what they see as a problematic real world. It is through gambling that they feel relief from the feelings of helplessness, depression, anxiety, or desperation. However, because they see gambling as a form of escape and withdrawal from greater society, this also signifies the fact that gamblers have severed ties with many of their social networks, and as such, are less capable of solving the problems that caused the feelings they wish to escape from.
What has been termed as “chasing losses” is one of the best indicators of pathological gambling. Chasing losses is when a gambler has begun experiencing losses, but continue to believe with irrational optimism that an upcoming windfall will help make up for all these previous losses. As such, they experience a compulsion to keep gambling and chase their losses away with upcoming victories. The feelings they have of irrational optimism, of invincibility and of the strength to embrace embarrassingly excessive risks, however, are the unsound bases for the decisions to chase losses.
Concealing and lying
In order to explain to family and friends the change in social activity or even the constant preoccupation and expenditure on gambling, many gamblers begin to lie and conceal their activities. If they still maintain a degree of honesty and acknowledge the fact that they gamble, they may lie about the extent of their involvement and attachment to gambling. In this way, they are able to ward off other people and avoid being told to stop.
The commission of illegal acts
Another bull’s eye indicator of pathological gambling is when the gambler has engaged or intends to engage in some illegal activity to fund his or her gambling addiction. The use of forgery, fraud, and embezzlement are common means that pathological gamblers employ in order to finance their gambling. The commission of illegal acts is a sure indicator of the lack of control and the complete disregard for the welfare of other people.
The possibility of severing relationships
As a result of gambling, the pathological gambler is now incapable of functioning as a productive member of society. This means having jeopardized relations at home and at work, and has not been able to fulfill responsibilities expected of him or her. He or she may have passed off a job promotion, forgotten deadlines, or have not gone to work at all. At home, an impending divorce or an increasing drift between the gambler and the rest of the family may also be evident. This indicator is one that signifies the severance of significant and meaningful relationships, either willingly or unknowingly, because of the uncontrolled gambling and the consequences of the actions the gambler has resorted to in order to sustain the addiction.
Financial dependence and desperation
At this point, the gambler may have run out of personal means in order to finance the gambling addiction. This may result in his or her dependence on other people to finance and support him or her. This dependence may manifest itself particularly in instances where the gambler needs rescuing from an immediate financial situation resulting from gambling.
A person exhibiting five or more of the previously identified indicators are classified as pathological gamblers. Those who suffer from three or four of the indicators are considered problem gamblers who may be at the beginning of the progressive addiction. Those who exhibit one or two of the indicators are considered gamblers who are at high risk of eventually succumbing to pathological gambling.