Understanding Gambling addiction

In many ways it is hard to gauge the prevalence of gambling addiction, it has long been considered a ‘hidden’ addiction, as the consequences are easier to hide compared to the more overt presentations of addiction found from substance abuse. The difficulty in accurately determining the prevalence of gambling addiction, is that it is measured largely from those who actually seek help, leaving those with a gambling problem that don’t seek help, unaccounted for.

Now however, it seems that gambling disorders are becoming more visible due to the eruption of gambling opportunities, in particularly gambling online. Governments around the world have acknowledged the economic benefits in liberalizing gambling, the New York Times reported that Europe has grown into the biggest online gambling market in the world in “an attempt to reduce yawning budget gaps” and that countries like China, Malaysia and South Korea, that have previously limited gambling for religious or cultural reasons, now permit the operations of casinos, for the sake of tourism profits (Eric Pfanner, NYT, 2010). Such changes have contributed to an influx of gambling activity, and perhaps consequently, an increase in the incidence of problem gambling.

There is a myriad of research on the comorbidity of gambling disorders with mental and substance use disorders, that depict the types of people more prone to having a gambling problem, as those with other psychiatric issues. However, due to the increased accessibility of gambling activities, demographic populations not historically associated with gambling, are now more likely to engage in gambling activities and a percentage of such individuals are considered at risk of developing a gambling problem.

Many younger aged people are shown to be participating in gambling (for example via the internet or through the use of gambling apps). Research has suggested that children are more likely to develop problems related to gambling than adults, furthermore those young people that engage in gambling activities early in life, are more likely to experience gambling problems later on in adulthood.

In an article titled Pathological Gambling: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment (2005), George and Murali (psychiatrists specializing in addiction), state that the prevalence of gambling among women is also on the increase. Women are usually older than men when they take up gambling “but once started they develop gambling-related problems more rapidly”.

The cause and treatment of gambling addiction is eclectic. Gambling behavior is complex, however research in the past has mainly focused exclusively on singular theoretical perspectives such as behaviorism, cognitivism, addiction theory etc. One popular singular theory explaining gambling behavior, is the “illusion of control” first introduced by Ellen Langer’s series of experiments in the 1970’s. This cognitive based theory suggests that the cause of problem gambling is an issue of self-control.

However research today tends to focus on a more comprehensive analysis of causation and treatment of gambling problems. Treatment interventions now acknowledge the need for a more holistic biopsychosocial approach, where individual differences and broader contextual factors are taken into account and where, in order to avoid relapse, it is necessary to carefully monitor holistic treatments over the longer term.

Gambling addiction remains a chronic disorder that requires more research into its prevalence, causes and treatments, especially in light of the ever-changing forms of gambling activities.

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