Mental health risk increased in problem gamblers

By Mark Cowen, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Individuals with a gambling problem are at increased risk for developing Axis I psychiatric disorders, results from a US study show.

The researchers found that older problem gamblers were significantly more likely than their peers without a gambling problem to develop generalized anxiety disorder and/or any substance use disorder over an average follow-up period of 3 years.

"Older-adult gamblers, as well as their clinicians, friends, and family, should be aware of potential risks associated with gambling, adopt strategies to prevent the onset of secondary disorders, and monitor themselves and others for signs of problems," suggest lead author Marc Potenza (Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut) and team.

The findings come from a study of 10,231 individuals, aged at least 55 years, who participated in Wave 1 (2001-2002) and 2 (2004-2005) of the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions.

At Wave 1, 67.3% of participants were classified as past-year low-frequency gamblers/non-gamblers, 29.9% as low-risk gamblers, and 2.8% as at-risk/problem/pathologic gamblers, based on DSM-IV criteria.

After accounting for baseline factors such as demographic characteristics, physical health, and stressful life events, the team found that individuals who met criteria for problem gambling were 2.51 times more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder between Wave 1 and 2 than those classified as low-frequency gamblers/non-gamblers.

In addition, problem gamblers were 2.61 times more likely to develop any substance use disorder between Wave 1 and 2 than low-frequency gamblers/non-gamblers.

The researchers also found that low-risk gambling was negatively associated with the incidence of hypomania relative to low-frequency gambling/non-gambling (odds ratio=0.33).

Potenza et al conclude in the Journal of Psychiatric Research: "While gambling may represent a positive activity for some older adults, data suggest that risky/problematic gambling behavior may be associated with the development of psychiatric problems in this population."

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