Gambling Addiction Runs in Families
Gambling addiction is a serious problem and an example of a behavioral addiction. Although gambling addicts don’t abuse a chemical substance, like a drug addict does, they experience many of the symptoms of addiction. For someone addicted to gambling, there are withdrawal symptoms, a build-up of tolerance and the inability to stop in spite of the negative consequences. Many people have had their finances, relationships and careers destroyed because of a gambling habit.
New research is demonstrating that millions more people are at risk of developing a problem with gambling. Family history contributes to the risk of becoming a pathological gambler. We are also finding that the problem comes with other mental health issues like depression, social anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The recent research could help bring more awareness to the problem of gambling addiction.
One interesting new finding about pathological gambling is that it runs in families. Researchers from the University of Iowa looked at 95 pathological gamblers, those who could be considered to have a serious problem or an addiction, as well as 91 control participants. They also collected data from over 1,000 relatives of the participants. They found that among the serious problem gamblers, 11 percent of their relatives also had gambling problems. Among the control participants, the rate was much lower, at 1 percent. This means that a close relative of a problem gambler is eight times more likely to also have a problem with gambling.
The researchers then expanded their data collection to include people with a less serious gambling problem. Within this group, 16 percent of relatives also had issues with gambling. The connection between relatives and gambling problems is strong and clear. The study was the largest of its kind and demonstrates that family history is the most important risk factor for pathological gambling.
Problem Gambling and Mental Health
The study authors also looked at other mental health issues for the participants with gambling problems or addictions and their relatives. They found that diagnoses for anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD occurred at a significantly higher rate in the relatives of problem gamblers than in the relatives of those participants with no history of problem gambling. What the findings suggest is that there are underlying similarities in being predisposed for problem gambling and certain mental health disorders. Someone at risk for gambling addiction may also be at risk for a mental health condition, and vice versa.
The findings are both intriguing and important. The researchers hope to be able to expand their work to include neurological studies and brain scans. These could help untangle the ways in which gambling addiction affects the brain and how brain function is different between people who have the addiction and those who do not. They also hope to find the connections between problem gambling and mental illness. Understanding how these issues occur in certain people and how the genetic component works is an important area for future research.
For now, the information from the current study has the potential to help people at risk for gambling addiction and mental illness. Physicians and therapists working with pathological gamblers can reach out to relatives to try to prevent more instances of gambling addiction. They can also screen problem gamblers for mental health conditions. Problem gamblers should also be aware of these connections and should talk to family members. Being open about the problem could help save their loved ones from a similar fate.