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Pathological Gambling Is a 'Family Matter'

Update Date: Jun 17, 2014 07:40 AM EDT
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Pathological gambling runs in the families, a new study has confirmed. According to the study, first-degree relatives of pathological gamblers are eight times more likely to develop problem in their lifetime than relatives of people without this habit. 

"Our work clearly shows that pathological gambling runs in families at a rate higher than for many other behavioral and psychiatric disorders," said Donald W. Black, MD, professor of psychiatry in the UI Carver College of Medicine, in the press release. "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."

Pathological gambling is a kind of gambling that is serious enough and turns into a clinical issue. It is a major public health problem affecting between 0.5 and 1.5 percent of American adults at some point during their lives. 

The study considered 95 pathological gamblers and 91 control subjects. Researchers determined a gambling diagnosis for every person in the study through interviews and proxy interviews. 

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, according to the press release. 

"People have always thought pathological gambling ran in families-anecdotal evidence certainly suggested it. But when you finally do a study like this, which is the largest of its kind, and come up with figures like this, it is quite striking," added Black.

"I think our findings should give impetus to neuroscientists who conduct molecular genetic studies to really pursue this," Black concluded. "Maybe this situation provides a better chance of finding genes that are linked to the gambling disorder, and maybe that would pave the way for improving our understanding of the genetic transmission in general for psychiatric disorders, particularly in the realm of addiction."

The research has been published in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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