What is pathological gambling, its types, symptoms and treatment?

Gambling is a pathology that consists of the progressive alteration of behaviour by which the individual experiences an uncontrollable need to play, over and above any negative consequence. The World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognise it as a disease. Gambling occurs in games with addictive capacity, in which little time elapses between the bet and the prize won. “the game associated with gambling is the one that takes place in bingo casinos and online games.” According to the specialist, “the gambler is like a drug addict who needs the game and does whatever it takes to play, that is, he turns the game into a first urgent need”.

The appearance of a withdrawal syndrome if the habit is interrupted.


Gambling is not directly related to any specific cause; instead, it is a set of factors that can lead to the development a pathological gambling disorder. 


It seems that the genetic endowment influences pathological gambling since it has been found that the children of gambling parents have a greater risk of becoming gamblers than the children of non-players. 

Family and social environment

The most natural environment (parents and educators) represents many young people’s learning model and imitation.  

psychological and social problems

People going through moments of psychological instability or with personal and social problems represent an important risk group for developing gambling. The game can serve as an escape from reality and end up becoming a necessary pathological habit.

Game structure and advertising

Most forms of gambling that can cause compulsive gambling, slot machines, casino games, etc., have an addictive component based on the repetition of behaviour that is rewarded and that creates expectations of being rewarded. 

“in addition to the fact that many games are designed to engage if the players associate this habit with certain moments, such as a coffee break or any type of leisure and enjoyment, the action of playing is reinforced and can become a necessity”.


Gambling manifests itself through the consequences that derive from pathological gambling.

Abandonment of work and social life: the game begins to occupy a preponderant place in the lives of individuals who disregard their work life and social relationships. Sudden passivity and excessively reserved behaviour, associated with factors such as the person going to the casino frequently or constantly betting on the Internet, can indicate a case of pathological gambling.

Economic problems: unforeseen expenses, loans, lack of money, etc. All this means that the individual can resort to lying to avoid responsibilities and hide the consequences of his gambling addiction.

Anxiety and depression disorders: The gambler wants to continue betting, despite the damage it causes him. His mind is preoccupied with betting, getting formulas to win and getting money to bet. All this, together with the fact that on many occasions, the gambler does not have access to the game, can cause anxiety disorders. 


The types of pathological gambling are determined based on the form of gambling to which the individual is hooked. Each game has its structure and addictive component:

Slot machines: Their addictive component is based on reinforcing behaviour through prizes. The individual inserts a coin, and the machine rewards that behaviour; although in most cases, no reward is obtained, whenever the machine awards a prize, it will reinforce the behaviour of tossing the coin. It also follows other visual and auditory strategies.

Games of chance:  in this type of game (lottery, bingo, betting, etc.), there is intermittency of behaviour reinforcement. They are based on chance and the creation of expectations, which are sometimes met and reward behaviour.


The diagnosis of compulsive gambling is possibly due to the consequences and symptoms of pathological gambling.

The evolution and diagnosis of the disease “are like entering a spiral where more is played than is due”. The spiral begins with problem gambling, leading to economic and social problems, and triggering psychological problems, such as anxiety disorders and depression


Different types of therapies must be combined to improve the success of the treatment. Pharmacological therapy is useful since medications help curb impulses and manage behaviour regulation systems. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, also used in the treatment of depression, can be administered. Naltrexone, a drug that curbs impulsivity, is also used.

The drugs must be accompanied by individual psychotherapy to reinforce positive behaviours and suppress negative ones. to solve an addiction problem; you have to recognise the problem and want to solve it. The specialist explains that, from recognising the situation and wanting to change it, there are different types of therapy where family and environmental involvement play a crucial role. One of the keys to treating gambling addiction is establishing an external control since there is no internal control regarding restricting money: prevent the gambling patient from going alone to the bank, from going to casinos, etc. In addition, many times, the game replaces deficiencies, so you have to try to reinforce certain factors, such as social skills or self-esteem, to give the individual that missing pillar that, somehow, he finds in the game.