Problem gambling will become more widespread because of the increasing availability, especially online, of gambling opportunities, said experts who called for more research to improve understanding and treatment of the disorder.
While most people gamble as an enjoyable social activity, "a small group of people become too seriously involved in terms of time invested and money wagered, and they continue to gamble despite substantial and negative personal, social, family and financial effects," wrote Professor David C. Hodgins of the University of Calgary, Canada, and colleagues.
Problem gambling is often accompanied by other disorders, they said in an article published online in The Lancet. For example, pathological gamblers (those with the most severe gambling problem) have a four times increased risk of alcohol abuse, a five to six times increased risk of drug abuse, and a four times increased risk of some form of mood disorder.
Genetic factors play a role in gambling disorders, as do environmental factors such as accessibility to gambling, location and type of gambling establishment, and childhood exposure to gambling through parents with a gambling problem.
Gamblers don't seek treatment
Only one in 10 problem gamblers seeks treatment. This reluctance to find help mainly results from shame, denial and a desire to handle the problem on their own, the authors explained. For those who do seek treatment, options include cognitive behavioural therapy, drugs, family therapy and interventions such as Gamblers Anonymous.
Research suggests that about one-third of problem gamblers recover and that the disorder is transient and episodic in many cases.
"There is substantial comorbidity of gambling disorders and mental and substance use disorders. How concurrent disorders should be addressed in gambling treatment is not well understood and has not been empirically studied," the authors wrote in a journal news release. Most of what is known about gambling disorders has been discovered in the past 25 years, they said.
"Our knowledge continues to evolve in parallel with a burgeoning availability of gambling opportunities," they wrote. "Internet gambling, for example, is providing around-the-clock home access to several types of gambling activities to an increasing number of people around the world. Thus, although substantial progress has been made, this evolution warrants, and is likely to encourage, more innovative research into gambling disorders and its translation into clinical progress."
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