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Gamblers Share Profiles of Substance Abusers

Tuesday 5 July 2005

Problem Gamblers Share Personality Profiles of Substance Abusers: Otago Research

Young adults with problem gambling behaviour have personality profiles strikingly similar to the profiles of those with alcohol, marijuana and nicotine-associated addictive disorders, according to a new research arising from the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Research Unit.

The new findings are published today in the US-based international journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The research compared personality assessments obtained in 1991-1992 for 939 young adults (475 men and 464 women) from Dunedin who were 18 years old, with diagnoses of problem gambling and alcohol, cannabis and nicotine dependence in the previous year based on structured interviews conducted when the individuals were 21 years old in 1993-1994.

In the past it has been difficult to identify personality traits associated with problem gambling, because most previous studies have drawn subjects from those seeking treatment for a gambling disorder, says Research Unit Director Associate Professor Richie Poulton.

“These subjects are unlikely to be representative of the majority of individuals in the community with gambling problems,” Associate Professor Poulton explained.

He and his colleagues found that young adults with a problem gambling diagnosis in the year before they turned 21 were, on average, more likely to have high scores for negative emotionality and for impulsive and risk-taking behavior on personality tests taken at age 18 years.

“In particular, young adults with a diagnosis of problem gambling were characterised by negative emotions such as nervousness or worry, anger or aggressiveness, feeling mistreated or victimised, and unconstrained behaviours of risk-taking, impulsivity, and rebelliousness,” he and his co-authors write in the journal article.

“Past-year problem gambling was significantly associated with past-year alcohol dependence, cannabis dependence, and nicotine dependence,” they report.

“The associations between problem gambling and the three substance use disorders were similar in magnitude and were nearly as large as the well-established association between alcohol and nicotine dependence.”

“A focus on more basic traits, such as individual differences in personality, is a promising approach for understanding the high rate of comorbidity [conditions which occur together] of pathological and problem gambling with other addictive disorders,” they concluded.

Note: The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit is supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council. This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., the William T. Grant Foundation, New York and the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, London, England.


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