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Is pathological gambling genetic?

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A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa suggests that pathological gambling both runs in families and exhibits overlap with other forms of mental illness. The study confirmed that individuals with first-degree relatives who exhibit such tendencies are eight times more likely to exhibit such characteristics themselves than the general population. According to Donald W. Black, MD and professor of psychiatry at the UI Carver College of Medicine:

"Our work clearly shows that pathological gambling runs in families at a rate higher than for many other behavioral and psychiatric disorders...I think clinicians and health care providers should be alerted to the fact that if they see a person with pathological gambling, that person is highly likely to have a close relative with similar or the same problem. That is a teaching moment and they should probably encourage the patient to let their relatives know that help is available."

The study went as follows:

The UI study, which was the largest of its kind in the world to date, recruited and assessed 95 pathological gamblers and 91 control subjects, matched for age, sex, and level of education, from Iowa, as well as 1,075 first-degree adult relatives of the study participants (first-degree relatives include parents, siblings, and children.) Based on interviews and proxy interview material, the research team determined a gambling diagnosis for every person in the study.

They found that 11 percent of the gambling relatives had pathological gambling themselves compared to 1 percent of the control relatives, which means that the odds are about eight times higher in gambling families for pathological gambling to run in those families compared to control families (University of Iowa Health Care, 2014)

"Problem" gambling, however, is not the same thing as pathological gambling. The former is a larger group. Nonetheless, the researchers were able to determine that 16 percent of relatives of pathological gamblers exhibited characteristics typical of those of problem gambling. This, in contrast to only 3 percent of the relatives of individuals from the general population. They likewise found that forms of mental illness such as social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and antisocial personality disorder were all much more common in the relatives of pathological gamblers regardless than found in the general population, regardless of whether or not those relatives of pathological gamblers themselves exhibited problems with gambling.

University of Iowa Health Care. (2014, June 16). Pathological gambling runs in families. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616204542.htm

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