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A Fresh Look at Gambling Addiction

Friday July 22,2011 :  Has the expansion of land gambling increased the incidence of addiction; and what impact has internet betting had?
 
The media is considered by many associated with gambling to have an exaggerated and perhaps morbid interest in problem gambling, appearing at times to revel in recounting the spectacular downfall of addictive gamblers and the many side effects this generates. Whilst that is in some ways desirable in warning the public on the dangers of losing control, it is not always a balanced look at the subject.
 
The Chicago Tribune recently took a more equitable route when it interviewed the respected Harvard academic Howard J. Schaffer, who is an expert on the subject, having conducted extensive research, most recently in association with colleague Michael Ryan.
 
The duo's most recent contribution to the subject, a study on “Disordered Gambling: Etiology, Trajectory and Clinical Considerations” was recently published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-040510-143928.
 
The academic assessment is that although land gambling has been the subject of massive expansion in the United States over the last 35 years, the incidence of problem gambling has in fact decreased - from 0.7 percent to 0.6 percent.
 
Shaffer told the newspaper that gambling for the huge majority of punters is an enjoyable but controllable diversion...and he dispelled the commonly touted belief - usually by uninformed politicians - that internet gambling constitutes a greater danger/risk of creating problem gamblers, saying: “People gambling on the internet change from gambling more to less in weeks. We never would have predicted that. The extent of internet gambling for most is astoundingly moderate.”
 
The academic went on to claim that as little as 1 percent of the global gambling population had in fact ever gambled online, and that among those who had, there was little concrete evidence that exposure increased their risk of becoming addicted.
 
Interestingly, Shaffer noted that his research has shown that among the 0.6 percent of gamblers in the United States currently classed as problem punters, some 75 percent had addiction problems beyond gambling, with such issues surfacing before gambling problems manifested themselves. And addicted gamblers were found to be almost six times more likely to be susceptible to substance abuse, and four times more likely to be vulnerable to mood swings and disorders.
 
Shaffer broke it down further, revealing that some 75 percent had drinking issues, 38 percent drug disorders and 60 percent dependence on smoking/nicotine.
 
Shaffer and Ryan's research has added more information to an already extensive body of knowledge accumulating on addiction at Harvard, which will hopefully empower both better diagnostic and treatment regimes, and a more balanced and considered view based on fact rather than politically expedient opinion or emotional anti-gambling rhetoric.
 
Their most recent work confirms that of other researchers in this vital area of interest, into which major online gambling groups like Bwin have invested substantial financial sponsorships to get at the facts.
 
It also perhaps underlines the accuracy of the UK Gambling Commission's regular gambling prevalence studies, which have consistently reached similar conclusions.
 
Problem gambling is undoubtedly a dangerous disability with far-reaching and often tragic consequences that needs to be discouraged and controlled, but it is also important to realise that it is not the runaway threat it is so often alleged to be, and likely is less prevalent than other addictions that can plague minority segments of society.

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