How New Link Between Gambling Addiction and OCD Could Help Sufferers

Words associated with gambling addiction

A study out this week published by Yale University in the States shows that there is both a behavioural and a genetic link between gambling addiction and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. While the academics behind the study are not suggesting that any every problem gambler needs to flick the light switch on and off exactly 23 time before they leave a room, the study sheds new light on gambling addiction, and is being seen by many as a step towards new modes of treatment.

Why Gambling Addiction is Hard to Define

It has long been recognised that there is a link between gambling and other forms of addiction – particularly alcohol and substance addiction. The behaviour of a gambling addict, the modes they use to fund and feed their habit, and the detrimental effect such behaviour has on the other aspects of their lives have clear similarities to those of drug and alcohol addicts. However, there are obvious differences too.

Gambling Addict with Head in HandsWhen someone becomes dependent on a drug or alcohol, their body and brain is changed chemically. The substances bring about physical alterations in the user which make them both crave the substance, and mean that withdrawal from it could bring about serious illness for the user. It is quite obvious to most people that gambling addiction brings with it no such physical change.

This is problematic for doctors and psychiatrists trying to define, diagnose and treat gambling addiction, as it is not as easy to point to how the brain is affected by the addiction.

What the Study Shows

The new report – that was co-authored by experts from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Saint Louis University School of Medicine – proposes that people who display obsessive-compulsive behaviours (such as fear of germs or the need to control and order one’s environment) are more likely to also suffer from problem gambling. Through analysis which is far more technical than I can get my head around, the authors concluded that the link was in fact genetic to some extent.

The lead author Dr. Marc Potenza spoke of how this genetic link suggests that the factors influencing gambling addiction may have more in common with those that cause obsessive-compulsive behaviour than with those which cause substance addiction.

How The Study Might Help

The way in which a specific mental illness – such as gambling addiction – is classified influences entirely how healthcare professionals approach treating the condition. As long as the parallels between gambling addiction and substance addiction are used as the leading mode of diagnosis, doctors will continue to treat gambling addicts in the same way as substance addicts, and use the same methods of treatment. While these methods can prove effective, this study demonstrates how an alternative or more holistic approach to care, which takes in to account obsessive-compulsive behaviour, may prove more effective for many sufferers.

It is hoped that the study will help doctors find new ways of treatment which are both behavioural and medical, which more accurately address the biological and psychological causes of gambling addiction.

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