Pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, problem gambling, disordered gambling, addicted gambling – what is the proper term to use when describing someone who is destroying their life by gambling too much.
You may have noticed that in this book I was not consistent in the adjectives that I used to describe both the disease and the gambler. I’ve used “compulsive”, “problem”, “disordered”, and “addicted” at various times in the book. Though, by the last half of the book I tended to use only “addicted” – i.e. “addicted gambler” to describe the person, and “gambling addiction” to describe the disease. What follows are some thoughts on each of the terms currently being used.
Pathological is used to describe the person, but not usually the disease. Pathological was prominent over a decade ago but is now completely out of favor. Obviously, “pathological” is an unnecessarily negative term. It also doesn’t really describe what is going on with the addiction. You wouldn’t call the garden variety alcoholic a pathological drinker. This term should stay in the past.
Also used mostly to describe the person. While not as negative as pathological, it still doesn’t quite capture the nature of the addiction. It looks like it is also currently out of favor.
GA still uses “compulsive gambler” in their literature and at meetings: “Hi, I’m Kurt, and I’m a compulsive gambler”. As mentioned before, it is very difficult and expensive for GA to update their materials, so I assume “compulsive” will live on for some time at GA.
This is still in use at various sites and in the literature. The problem I have with “problem” is that it has become a little hazy. In some places it’s used to describe a broad range of gamblers from those who gamble a little too much (and may be on the path to addiction) to those who are clearly addicted. Often when reading about gambling you don’t know which group or groups they are referring to when they use “problem gambling”.
The National Council on Problem Gaming (NCPG) continues to use “problem” since it its actually part of their name. I’m guessing they are stuck with it from now on.
This is the hot up-and-comer in the world of gambling terminology. Used both for the person – “disordered gambler”, and for the disease – “gambling disorder”. The DSM-5 uses it (almost) exclusively. (Unfortunately, the DSM-5 slipped up once in the gambling disorder section and used the term “pathological gambling” when referring to the prevalence of gambling among African Americans.)
The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) website has completely converted to the “disordered” terminology in its website and literature.
For me, as a regular person and a non-professional, I don’t like the “disordered” term at all. I don’t think of myself as being disordered – what does that mean? And when I think of the term for the disease, “disordered gambling”, I’m also confused. The picture I have in my mind of disordered gambling is a person wandering around the casino, confused, randomly placing bets, not understanding what they are doing. When I’m at a casino, I feel like my gambling is completely ordered.
I prefer addicted or addiction: “Hi, I’m Kurt, and I’m addicted to gambling”. To me “addicted” is the most accurate, and the most descriptive. Gambling addiction was only recently (2013) added to the section in the DSM-5 that includes things like drug and alcohol addiction. It is the only behavioral disorder included in this section with all the substance abuse disorders. That is good progress in the understanding that gambling is a true addiction and has many of the same characteristics as stimulant addiction.
Though in reading the entire DSM-5 section on all substance abuse disorders (addictions) I only find the term addiction once – and that is in the title of the section. For some reason that I’m not aware of, the DSM people are avoiding using the term “addiction” for anything. Of course, they are way smarter than I am about these things, so I’m sure they have a good reason.
Still, call me old fashioned, but I prefer addiction. I think it is time that we call it like it is. We are addicted to gambling. By being straight-up with it, others will now read and hear the term in the context of gambling and then perhaps start to understand what we are dealing with. We are addicted to gambling. Let it be known.