Causes of Problem and Pathological Gambling and the Main Risk Factors

A separate research contract was given to the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences for the purpose of conducting a thorough review of the available literature on problem and pathological gambling. This review covered 4,000 gambling-related references, including 1,600 specifically focused on problem or pathological gambling. Three hundred of these were empirical studies. 4 Together, the NORC and NRC reports have added substantially to the publicly available literature on the subject and provide a valuable addition to our knowledge of gambling behavior, along with a clearer picture of the effects of problem and pathological gambling on individuals and their communities. These research findings are not the last word on the subject, however, indicating that much more research is needed. The studies are included in their entirety with this Final Report and may be found on the accompanying CD-ROM.

Despite the lack of basic research and consensus among scholars, the Commission is unanimous in its belief that the incidence of problem and pathological gambling is of sufficient severity to warrant immediate and enhanced attention on the part of public officials and others in the private and non-profit sectors. The Commission strongly urges those in positions of responsibility to move aggressively to reduce the occurrence of this malady in the general population and to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted.

Risk Factors for Problem and Pathological Gambling
Although the causes of problem and pathological gambling remain unknown, there is no shortage of theories. For some, problem or pathological gambling results primarily from poor judgment and inadequate self-control. Others argue that problem or pathological gambling is often simply a developmental stage, which a person can outgrow. Especially interesting is research into the genetic basis of problem and pathological gambling. Given the present state of knowledge, there appears to be no single “root cause” of problem and pathological gambling; instead a variety of factors come into play.

According to the NRC study, certain patterns of behavior exist that may predispose a person to develop a gambling problem. For example:
· Pathological gambling often occurs in conjunction with other behavioral problems, including substance abuse, mood disorders, and personality disorders. The joint occurrence of two or more psychiatric problems— termed co-morbidity— is an important, though complicating, factor in studying the basis of this disorder. Is problem or pathological gambling a unique pathology that exists on its own or is it merely a symptom of a common predisposition, genetic or otherwise, that underlies all addictions?
· Pathological gamblers are more likely than non-pathological gamblers to report that their parents were pathological gamblers, indicating the possibility that genetic or role model factors may play a role in predisposing people to pathological gambling.
· Recent research suggests that the earlier a person begins to gamble, the more likely he or she is to become a pathological gambler. However, many people who report being heavy gamblers in their youth also report “aging out” of this pattern of behavior as they mature. This process is sometimes likened to college-age “binge” drinkers who may fit the definition of “problem drinker” while at school but who significantly moderate their intake of alcohol after graduation.

3 National Opinion Research Center, “Gambling Impact and Behavior Study, Report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission,” (April 1, 1999). 4 NRC.