Skip to content

Mental Health Center

Font Size

Pathological Gambling a Medical Problem, Not a Bad Habit


The difference, says Potenza, is just like the people who pull up to Beverage Square in cars so beat up the doors don't open. A pathological gambler has no money to spend on car repairs, let alone a new car, he says. The pathological gambler will use food, rent, and utility money for gambling -- and when that runs out he or she may steal to feed the habit. Like the alcoholic who becomes a "closet drinker," the pathological gambler will lie to family and friends about his or her gambling.

A typical scenario, says McKearney, "is like the woman who won $75 on an instant ticket and said, 'Now I can pay the electric bill.'"

Some groups have a higher risk for pathological gambling than others, says Potenza. Men are two to three times more likely to be problem gamblers than are women, and blacks have a higher risk than whites. A family history of gambling problems is also a risk factor and the poor are more likely to be drawn into problem gambling than are wealthier, better-educated people.

The good news, says Potenza, is that some drugs may lessen the gambling urge. A few small studies suggest that antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft may work in some individuals, he says, while others may respond to naltrexone, a drug used in treating addiction to alcohol and heroin.

Potenza says, too, that self-help programs such as Gamblers Anonymous and the family support program called Gam-Anon have also been helpful for some pathological gamblers.

1 | 2

Today on WebMD

Differences between feeling depressed or feeling blue.
lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
man screaming
Causes, symptoms, and therapies.
woman looking into fridge
When food controls you.
Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
senior man eating a cake
woman reading medicine warnings
depressed young woman
man with arms on table
man cringing and covering ears

WebMD Special Sections