More than half the pathological gamblers interviewed were either single, divorced or widowed, which was not true of the control group.
"Pathologic gamblers tend to have chaotic lives," Black said. "And when you add in other factors like alcoholism or antisocial personality disorder, the marital dysfunction becomes more understandable."
Black said that gambling problems have become widespread in the last 20 years, mainly due to easy access to gambling outlets. When those people who are predisposed to problem gambling are regularly exposed to gambling opportunities, they are much more likely to develop a problem.
Iowa sanctions casinos, racetracks, lottery, bingo and the new phenomenon of TouchPlay gambling machines in stores, as gambling outlets.
"Gambling is widespread in Iowa, and it has been claimed that Iowa has more forms of legalized gambling than any other state in the nation," Black said. "When you increase the opportunities, you increase the problem of gambling."
The study was funded through a grant from the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
Black will conduct a similar, but much larger, study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It will be about three times the size of the current study. Black hopes to affirm his findings, and after that, he would like to begin a molecular genetic study. The genetic study would require thousands of blood samples drawn from pathological gamblers in search of a gene responsible for predisposition to a gambling disorder.
"What we find with pathological gamblers is that they have this uncontrollable urge to gamble," Black said. "Ideally, it would be nice to discover a drug that would reliably interrupt that urge."