Common Terms/
Definitions

Abstinence:
The theory that a pathological gambler in recovery must completely abstain from all gambling. Abstinence is the goal of Gamblers Anonymous and most, though not all, treatment professionals.

Compulsive gambling:
The term most commonly used by the public to describe someone with a gambling disorder, but generally rejected by the therapeutic community in favor of pathological gambling. The term disordered gambling is also sometimes used.

Controlled gambling:
A theory of treatment for pathological gambling in which the patient is allowed to gamble on a limited basis. Controlled gambling currently has few adherents in North America but is somewhat more popular overseas.

Disordered gambling:
A term coined by Howard Shaffer, Matthew Hall, and Joni Vander Bilt in 1997 to encompass the range of pathological, problem and excessive gambling. In their lexicon, level 1 of disordered gambling includes those with no gambling problems, level 2 includes people with gambling problems who do not meet the criteria for pathological gambling, while level 3 includes pathological gamblers.

Gam-Anon:
A fellowship for the families of pathological gamblers with chapters throughout North America.

Gamblers Anonymous (GA):
An international network of groups for people attempting to recover from pathological gambling. Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. Local chapters provide fellowship in which people share their experiences, support, and hopes in order to stop gambling.

Pathological gambling:
A chronic inability to resist the impulse to gamble. The term is usually limited to cases where the gambling causes serious damage to a person's social, vocational, or financial life. Often referred to as compulsive gambling and less frequently as disordered gambling, it is considered by most to be an impulse control disorder. It is not synonymous with problem gambling.

Problem gambling:
Gambling activity that causes difficulty for the individual but does not meet the standards for pathological gambling. Sometimes referred to as "at-risk," "in-transition" or "potential pathological" gambling, though it is not known at what rate problem gamblers become pathological gamblers. Referred to by Shaffer, Hall and Vander Bilt (1997) as level 2 of disordered gambling.

Professional gambling:
One who gambles as a way to make part or all of their living. Often confused with pathological gamblers, professional gambling is characterized by limited risks, discipline, and restraint, items all lacking in the pathological gambler. Professional gambliers wager on games with skill elements rather than games of chance, and wait to bet until the odds are more in their favor. Professional gamblers can, however, lose control and exhibit chasing behavior, at which time they become problem or pathological gamblers.

Social gambler/gambling:
Gamblers who exhibit few or none of the difficulties associated with problem or pathological gambling. Social gamblers will gamble for entertainment, typically will not risk more than they can afford, often gamble with friends, chase losses briefly, gamble for limited periods of time, and are not preoccupied with gambling. Synonymous with recreational gambling. Level 1 on Shaffer et al's typology of disordered gambling.

More Terms/Definitions


Our thanks to the North American Association of State & Provincial Lotteries for compiling the above definitions and terms.

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