Compulsive features in behavioural addictions: the case of pathological gambling (2012)

Addiction. 2012 Oct;107(10):1726-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03546.x.

el-Guebaly N, Mudry T, Zohar J, Tavares H, Potenza MN.


Department of Psychiatry, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. [email protected]



To describe, in the context of DSM-V, how a focus on addiction and compulsion is emerging in the consideration of pathological gambling (PG).


A systematic literature review of evidence for the proposed re-classification of PG as an addiction.


Findings include:

(i) phenomenological models of addiction highlighting a motivational shift from impulsivity to compulsivity associated with a protracted withdrawal syndrome and blurring of the ego-syntonic/ego-dystonic dichotomy;

(ii) common neurotransmitter (dopamine, serotonin) contributions to PG and substance use disorders (SUDs);

(iii) neuroimaging support for shared neurocircuitries between ‘behavioural’ and substance addictions and differences between obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), impulse control disorders (ICDs) and SUDs;

(iv) genetic findings more closely related to endophenotypic constructs such as compulsivity and impulsivity than to psychiatric disorders;

(v) psychological measures such as harm avoidance identifying a closer association between SUDs and PG than with OCD;

(vi) community and pharmacotherapeutic trials data supporting a closer association between SUDs and PG than with OCD. Adapted behavioural therapies, such as exposure therapy, appear applicable to OCD, PG or SUDs, suggesting some commonalities across disorders.


PG shares more similarities with SUDs than with OCD. Similar to the investigation of impulsivity, studies of compulsivity hold promising insights concerning the course, differential diagnosis and treatment of PG, SUDs, and OCD.

© 2011 The Authors, Addiction © 2011 Society for the Study of Addiction.

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