Are there different types of gamblers?

Yes.  Most gamblers, about 96%, are social gamblers. They are able to:

  • Decide on a loss limit ahead of time and stick to it
  • Never borrow money to gamble
  • Set a time limit
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Balance gambling with other activities
  • Don’t gamble when highly stressed, depressed or troubled in some other way
  • Only gamble with money set aside for entertainment, never with money for everyday expenses.

Some social gamblers are very serious about their gambling.  For example, they go to bingo or poker games every Thursday night, and won't let other things interfere with this. These gamblers are called serious social gamblers. This is similar to people who are serious about working out or playing tennis or golf.  These gamblers gamble regularly, but they are able to quit without showing signs of withdrawal or irritability.

Some gamblers are called at-risk gamblers. This term can refer to people who score 1 or 2 on a gambling screen, such as the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS).  It can mean people who fit certain characteristics. For instance, studies show that teen boys who cut school or smoke cigarettes have a higher incidence of gambling behaviors.  All teen boys who smoke and cut school could be considered “at risk” for gambling problems because this behavior is associated with a higher rate of gambling than the general population.

The term, problem gambler, is used to describe someone who scores 3-4 on the South Oaks Gambling Screen. In a less scientific way, it is also used to describe anyone who has problems because of gambling. See warning signs of a gambling problem.

A person might be considered a compulsive gambler if he or she can answer yes to seven of the 20 Questions from Gambler’s Anonymous (see How do I know if someone has a gambling problem). The word compulsive means an irresistible impulse to act irrationally. The term compulsive gambler implies that a person is unable to control gambling.

Gambling disorder is a term used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition, (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is found among Non-Substance Related Disorders, 312.31. There is a list of nine criteria, of which a person must admit to four, to be diagnosed with a gambling disorder.