Gambling: are you addicted?

A Harvard Medical School study has found that the prevalence of gambling disorders among adults in Canada and the United States has increased during the past two decades. Researchers analyzed the data from 120 gambling prevalence studies of adult, adolescent, and special populations that were published between 1977 and 1997. Based on 18 studies published between 1977-1993, the researchers estimated that 0.84 percent of the adult population in the United States and Canada were affected by a gambling disorder. They projected, after reviewing 17 studies, that the prevalence rate for 1994-1997 grew to 1.29 percent of the adult population.

“While the majority of Americans and Canadians who gamble do so without experiencing any adverse consequences, our findings show that there is a growing percentage of the adult population who are at risk for gambling disorders,” the study says. “This is significant, as gambling disorders have both social and economic costs.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classifies pathological gambling as an “impulse control disorder”. Clinical symptoms of pathological gambling include a preoccupation with gambling, a need to gamble with signicantly increasing amounts of money, committing illegal acts, (forgery, fraud, and embezzlement) to finance gambling, and problems with family, job, or school due to gambling.

The report says that the increase of legalized gambling during the past 20 years may factor into the increase in adult gambling disorders. “Adults in the general population are more sensitive to the social sanctions against illicit behaviors than adolescents, prison inmates, or patients struggling with major psychiatric illness. As gambling has become more socially accepted and accessible during the past two decades, the general adult population has started to gamble in increasing numbers. We are now beginning to witness a growth in gambling disorder among this group.”

The researchers also found that individuals with concurrent psychiatric or substance abuse problems displayed much higher rates of disordered gambling than either adolescents or adults sampled from the general population. The study was funded by a grant from the National Center for Responsible Gaming.