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Gambling Disorders Studies

The beliefs of a society about a health condition can have a huge impact on the people who suffer from the disorder. Public opinion can influence public health policy, public and private harm minimization efforts, research funds and treatment support. At the individual level, negative public views of a disease and the stigma it creates can strongly discourage individuals from admitting that he or she has the problem and seeking treatment for the condition. There is little data available on public opinion of gambling disorders; however, a new study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies fills this void with a systematic examination of public opinion on gambling disorders.

Researchers conducted telephone surveys with 8,467 adults in the Toronto area and questioned people about their opinions of how to best understand gambling disorders. Researchers asked if gambling disorders should be treated as a disease or illness, a wrongdoing, a habit, not disease or an addiction similar to drug addiction. Researchers also inquired if people with gambling disorders can get well on their own or must seek treatment to improve and polled adults on whether people with gambling disorders can reduce their gambling to that of a social gambler or if they need to quit altogether. The survey also gathered information on the gambling behavior and demographics of the respondents.

The researchers found that most people viewed gambling disorders as an addiction similar to drug addiction, with one-third seeing gambling as a habit and 17 percent viewing gambling as a form of wrongdoing. Responses to whether gamblers needed treatment to recover showed a split jury, and three out of four thought that abstinence from gambling activities must happen for recovery. Examining the demographics, the researchers found that being female, married, younger and without gambling problems paralleled believing that treatment and abstinence were necessary. In addition, people who viewed gambling problems as a disease or addiction also believed that treatment and abstinence for recovery are necessary.

The researchers noted that public perceptions reported in their study mimic the results of a 2003 study that examined the views of the public on alcohol use, with 71 percent of respondents saying that abstinence must occur for recovery. This popularly held belief is also the view of much of the scientific community as reflected by the upcoming changes the American Psychiatric Association is making.

Finally, researchers concluded that people with gambling disorders were less likely to think that treatment and abstinence were necessary for recovery. This may be because many people who meet the clinical guidelines for a gambling disorder do not think they have a problem and even those who believe they do have a problem are unlikely to seek treatment.

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