Pathological gambling affects up to 2 percent of the population in North America, and as legalized gambling increases, this percentage will likely grow.
Pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder consisting of persistent gambling that the gambler cannot stop, and often damages significant relationships of the inflicted. It can lead to severe financial, legal, family, social and psychiatric consequences, including increased risk for suicide and illegal activities.
In a recent paper published in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers from the Wayne State University School of Medicine compared treatment- and community-recruited pathological gamblers.
David Ledgerwood, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, said it is rare for people to seek treatment for gambling problems even though treatments work to reduce the burden of problem gambling.
"Some have suggested that problem gamblers who do not seek treatment have much less severe problems, and that we overestimate the co-occurring difficulties of problem gamblers by studying primarily those who are in treatment, who may have more difficulties overall," Dr. Ledgerwood said. "Those who are enrolled in treatment tend to experience greater distress related to their gambling, and are more likely to have gambling-related legal and depression problems and are more preoccupied with gambling."
According to the study, the research team found that other than these factors, there were few other factors that distinguished treatment-seeking problem gamblers from non-treatment seeking problem gamblers.
"Our findings suggest that data from treatment-recruited participants may, in many cases, be generalizable to the pathological gamblers from the general population, but some specific differences are important in terms of treatment and prevention," Dr. Ledgerwood said.
According to the study, the two groups were very similar with respect to demographics, and the study showed important characteristics of problem gamblers who seek treatment that should be further explored to increase motivation and treatment compliance.
"By gaining a better understanding of personal distress leading to and resulting from problem gambling, as well as what leads to gamblers enrolling in treatment, we may be able to provide a clearer direction to developing more effective and targeted outreach, prevention and treatment initiatives," Dr. Ledgerwood said.
The study was supported by the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre and National Center for Responsible Gaming as provided by the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, and Joe Young Sr. Funds from the State of Michigan.