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Names for Problem Gambling

The 3 most common names used to describe over-involvement in gambling are:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Pathological gambling, and
  • Problem gambling

Compulsive Gambling

“Compulsive gambling” is a term familiar to the general public. It’s used in the United States and by Gamblers Anonymous. The term is not entirely accurate, though, because gambling is not a compulsive disorder. It is classified as an impulse control disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, Revised Edition (DSM-IV-R). The DSM is a publication of the American Psychiatric Association and is used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental health problems. An impulse control disorder can be loosely defined as the inability to resist an impulsive act. However, there is disagreement about whether gambling belongs in this category.

Pathological Gambling

“Pathological gambling” is the diagnostic term used in the DSM-IV-R. Pathological gambling is defined as a maladjusted practice characterized by persistent and repetitive playing that is present when patients meet 5 or more of the following criteria:

  • They are preoccupied with gambling;
  • They need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to attain the desired state of excitement;
  • They have repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to control, cut back or stop gambling;
  • They are restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling;
  • They gamble as a way of escaping from problems or relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression);
  • After losing money gambling, they often return another day to get even;
  • They lie to family, a therapist or others to conceal the extent of their gambling;
  • They have committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement to finance gambling;
  • They have jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or educational or career opportunity because of gambling; or
  • They rely on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.

Problem Gambling

"Problem Gambling" is the term that is most commonly used in Canada. It is descriptive and is compatible with the notion that this problem can be very large or very minor. People do not have to lose everything in their lives before getting help for problem gambling. Therefore, the term is broader and more inclusive. It is often used to describe gambling behaviour that involves some type of harmful consequence. Problem gambling includes, but is not limited to, compulsive gambling and pathological gambling. It is often considered the most effective term because it does not label or stigmatize the person with the problem in the way “pathological” or “compulsive” can.

Why Does It Matter What We Call It?

The behaviour – gambling problematically – is the issue on which to focus. People have the problem, but they are not the problem. For example, calling someone a “problem gambler” can reduce him/her to one thing: a problem. Describing the situation rather than labelling the person – for example, “someone with a gambling problem” or “someone affected by gambling” – is less blaming and reduces stigma.

Introductory Video
View a short introductory video to learn more about the Self-Help Gambling Tools.
Gambling Quiz
Answering these nine questions will help you understand if gambling is having a negative impact on your life.
Monitor Your Gambling & Urges
Use this tool to keep track of when you gamble, or feel the urge to gamble. Mobile App also available.
Community Forum
Share with other people affected by problem gambling on this discussion board.
Self-Help for Those who Gamble
Do you gamble? These interactive tools will help you explore, cut down or stop gambling.
Self-Help for Family and Friends
Does someone you care about gamble too much? With these interactive excercises, learn why they gamble and what you can do to help.