• The variety of terms used to describe gambling addiction–pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, problem gambling, probable problem gambling–can be confusing. In the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the disorder was renamed “gambling disorder” and reclassified with the other addictive disorders. References to “pathological gambling” on CollegeGambling.org is from research that was released before the DSM-5.
  • Approximately 1 percent of the adult population in the United States has a severe gambling problem.
  • The most recent research estimates that 6 percent of young people and young adults have a gambling problem, a higher rate than among adults.
  • Preliminary research indicates that ethnic and racial minorities have higher rates of gambling problems than the adult general population.
  • The current diagnosis for gambling disorder includes several criteria similar to alcohol and drug dependence: increasing tolerance (e.g., needs to gamble more money to achieve the desired excitement); symptoms of withdrawal if gambling stopped or reduced; and inability to stop or reduce gambling. Criteria such as chasing losses are unique to gambling disorders.
  • People with gambling problems often have many of the same risk factors that predispose individuals to other addictive behaviors: other psychiatric problems such as depression; an unstable home life; and lack of peer or community support.
  • According to the DSM-5, “gambling disorder” is not the primary diagnosis for individuals with bipolar disorder who gamble excessively during a manic state.
  • According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, 96.3 percent of the lifetime pathological gamblers also met lifetime criteria for one or more of the other psychiatric disorders assessed in the survey.
  • People with gambling problems do recover; in fact, approximately one-third seem to recover on their own, without formal treatment.
  • Although there is no treatment standard for gambling disorders, therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and drug treatments appear to be promising.
  • Research does not substantiate the belief that some games – such as online poker or slot machines – are riskier than others. People can get into trouble with all types of gambling, from sports betting to the lottery, from bingo to casino games.


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American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5: The future of psychiatric diagnosis. Retrieved January 17, 2011 from www.dsm5.org.

Barry, D. T., Stefanovics, E. A., Desai, R. A., & Potenza, M. N. (2011). Differences in the associations between gambling problem severity and psychiatric disorders among black and white adults: findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. American Journal on Addictions, 20(1), 69-77.

Kessler, R. C., Hwang, I., LaBrie, R., Petukhova, M., Sampson, N. A., Winters, K. C., et al. (2008). DSM-IV pathological gambling in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Psychological Medicine, 38(9), 1351-1360.

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Petry, N. M., Stinson, F. S., & Grant, B. F. (2005). Comorbidity of DSM-IV pathological gambling and other psychiatric disorders: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 66(5), 564-574.

Shaffer, H. J., & Hall, M. N. (2001). Updating and refining prevalence estimates of disordered gambling behaviour in the United States and Canada. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 92(3), 168-172.

Shaffer, H. J., Hall, M. N., & Vander Bilt, J. (1999). Estimating the prevalence of disordered gambling behavior in the United States and Canada: a research synthesis. American Journal of Public Health, 89(9), 1369-1376.

Shaffer, H. J., & Korn, D. A. (2002). Gambling and related mental disorders: a public health analysis. Annual Review of Public Health, 23, 171-212.

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