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Psychologists Consider Pathological Gambling in Las Vegas Meeting

By Elaine Cassel

As many as 2.7 million adults in the United States suffer from pathological gambling, a DSM-IV impulse control disorder in which people cannot control their compulsion to gamble. Many of these sufferers also have other psychiatric diagnoses, including antisocial personality disorder, depression, substance abuse (particularly alcoholism), and attention deficit disorder

In December 2000, over 200 medical, psychological, and substance abuse researchers and academics joined gambling industry representatives at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas to discuss gambling addiction and the future course of research and treatment.

One of the first research agendas is to unravel the relationship between pathological gambling and the disorders that often accompany it, in an effort to ascertain the direction of influence, if any, between gambling, depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Research has shown, for instance, that there is a genetic link between alcoholism and pathological gambling. The gaming industry is funding research through its Gaming Entertainment Research and Education Foundation.

There was a sharp difference of opinion at the conference over whether the spread of commercial and tribal government casinos in the United States is causing an increase in the rate of pathological gambling. Prevalence statistics have been inconclusive. One survey found a 3 percent increase over a ten-year period in the New York area, during which time there was an increase in casino development in nearby Connecticut and Quebec, Canada.

One fact was not in dispute. Compulsive gamblers, much like cocaine addicts, experience a sudden release of the brain chemical dopamine, which triggers the mind's pleasure mechanism. Researchers from several fields working together may eventually reveal a common bond shared by all addictions.

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