Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Pathologic Gambling


Am Fam Physician. 2000 Feb 1;61(3):749.

  See related article on gambling.

What is pathologic gambling?

Pathologic gambling affects about 10 million Americans. People with this condition can't control their impulses to gamble. They end up losing a lot of money and get into financial trouble. Gambling usually causes problems with work or relationships. Men or women of any age can be pathologic gamblers. Depression, drinking and taking drugs often go along with pathologic gambling. Pathologic gamblers are also more likely to think about committing suicide.

What causes pathologic gambling?

Many experts think that pathologic gambling is an addiction because of the “rush” you feel when you win and lose money. Your experiences and personality type also play a large part. Pathologic gambling may be hard to treat because you may not want to tell others about your problem.

How is pathologic gambling treated?

Pathologic gambling can be treated. Your family doctor can help you and your loved ones. First, you have to admit you have a gambling problem by telling your family and friends. Second, you can join Gamblers Anonymous, a self-help group for problem gamblers. Your family and friends can join Gam-Anon. This is a group that helps families and friends deal with a loved one who is a pathologic gambler. Your doctor can work with you and your family during your treatment. It's important to complete the treatment program.

Your doctor may refer you to a mental health expert for more help. This help may involve talking about your gambling problem. It may also include advice about how to understand your gambling urge and how to handle it. Treatment for pathologic gambling may also include treatment for depression or substance abuse, if present.

Where can I go to get more information?

You can call the National Council on Problem Gambling at 1-800-522-4700. You can also get information on the Internet at the following Web site: This organization can help you find local chapters of Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon. It can also help you find local counselors who are experienced in treating pathologic gamblers. Gamblers Anonymous can be reached by calling 1-213-386-8789. You can also reach Gamblers Anonymous at the following Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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