Online Gambling: A Lifelong Addiction?

Online gambling has been a popular topic in North American media recently. First, the Ontario ruling on Casino online brought the issue to mainstream attention, and since then, other news outlets have begun covering the subject more frequently. As a result, just this past month have seen two stories from two very different sources that relate to our beloved activity.

How addicted do you need to be to gamble?

One of the most important factors when discussing internet gambling is defining what “addiction” actually means. A lack of clear criteria makes it very easy for concerned parties to throw the term around, and it usually results in emotional responses that shed little light on the facts behind the case.

For example, suppose one person thinks that anyone who plays poker for an hour or two per day is addicted. In that case, their opinion is to be respected regardless of how much another individual might disagree due to a much stricter definition.

Some experts suggest that internet gambling addiction can be diagnosed similarly to any other addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which psychiatrists around North America use, provide simple diagnostic criteria for addictions.

Unfortunately, many aspects of the “gaming addiction” diagnosis process lead us down the road to pseudoscience. The first problem is that some studies have suggested that patients suffering from pathological gambling disorder (the official name for gaming addiction) had more severe forms of mental illness than their non-problematic counterparts.

As a result, any use of the criteria listed in the DSM-IV may lead to false positives, particularly if one uses the same diagnostic criteria for internet addiction. The DSM-IV is meant to be used by trained professionals who recognize these obstacles and understand how to consider them when arriving at a final diagnosis.

“Problematic online gambling” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re addicted either. Many kids, teenagers, or even people in their early 20’s have gambled with their parent’s credit cards or managed to obtain a credit card of their own with a large line of credit. It doesn’t mean that they have a problem with gambling.

It just means that they’re able to take advantage of the system and run up large debts. In many online poker rooms, there have been reports of people betting more than $100,000 per hand of online poker on some days. If that’s not addictive gambling, then I don’t know what is.

It is important to realize that addiction is a descriptive term rather than a diagnostic one. This means that it cannot be used in an official diagnosis unless all other possibilities have been ruled out. People who are labeled as “pathological gamblers” or “internet addicts” can also be diagnosed with many other disorders, particularly if they are still in the process of being understood by science.


The most important thing to remember is that gambling addiction isn’t an official medical diagnosis but rather a theory about the causes and effects of a particular set of behaviors. The fact that we don’t know exactly what causes the “gaming addiction” is reason enough not to make it a separate diagnosis and instead include it as a form of pathological gambling.

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