Vulnerability To Compulsive Gambling Is Partly Inherited

th a psychiatric condition called pathological gambling disorder, an individual must exhibit at least four of nine behaviors, which include gambling larger amounts than intended, irritability if unable to gamble and sacrificing important activities in order to gamble.

"We were able to estimate the specific genetic component for two of those gambling behaviors," says Eisen. "One was gambling larger amounts than intended, and the other was repeated efforts to reduce or stop gambling. For those two symptoms, we found that about half of the gambling behavior was genetically mediated."

For three other behaviors - attempts to win back losses at the same place, frequent preoccupation with gambling and increased betting to maintain interest - the researchers were able to identify a familial vulnerability. That is a combination of inherited factors and environmental experiences during growth and development. The prevalence of each gambling behavior that was common enough to study, was higher in identical twins than in fraternal twins. So if one identical twin exhibited a particular behavior, the odds were high that his twin also would exhibit that behavior. The odds were lower in fraternal twin pairs, which are less similar genetically than identical twins. The researchers therefore concluded that genetic influences are an important explanation for vulnerability to many gambling behaviors.

A major influence
In this sample of twins, 1.4 percent met the official criteria for pathological gambling disorder, which is about the same as reported in other studies of middle-aged American males. Although the total number of compulsive gamblers was low, the genetic contribution to gambling behavior was very high. The researchers estimated that genetic factors influenced about 35 percent of the gambling behavior of study subjects who gambled at least 25 times a year but had no pathological symptoms.

Because such a small percentage of the sample were compulsi

Contact: Jim Dryden
Washington University in St. Louis

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