Gambling addiction – is there a genetic component?

A recent study from The North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help reports that approximately 2.6% of the US population has a gambling problem – that’s over 8 million people. 

The stats are similar over on the other side of the Atlantic – another study found that the rate of problem gambling in Europe is between 0.5 – 3%. The problem is so widespread that gambling addiction was recently recognized as a medical condition by the UK’s National Health Service.

Addiction of any kind is a complicated issue involving sever factors. But a growing number of people believe that when it comes to gambling addiction, there may a strong connection between compulsive behavior and your genes. Could gambling addiction one day be diagnosed with a simple DNA test? It’s too soon to tell now, but two different experiments have found a connection.

The sibling experiment

This study was carried out by the University of British Colombia using volunteers from the UK.

The researchers split their subjects into three groups – group 1 were all problem gamblers, group 2 were all siblings of problem gamblers, and group 3 was a control group. They found that the siblings, although they didn’t have a gambling problem themselves, were more likely to take risks and act compulsively when compared to the control group. Although the number of subjects was small, the researchers concluded that there was a familial link – suggesting that there is some sort of genetic factor.

Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, who co-authored the study, hopes that others will replicate the experiment to see if there is still a correlation when a larger sample-size is tested.

The twin experiment

An Australian study looked at 2,889 sets of twins – some identical, some fraternal (non-identical). They found that identical twins were more likely to both be gamblers when compared to pairs of fraternal twins. They also found a stronger link in male twins compared to female twins.

Critics of the study point out that the twins were likely to have grown up in the same environment and be influenced by the same social factors – although the researchers say they took measures to rule this out. Again, the scientists came to the conclusion that certain genes could be responsible for a predisposition to gamble.

Should I be worried?

If you have a parent or close relative who has a gambling problem, there’s no need to panic. Right now, there simply isn’t enough data to say for certain that weakness to addiction is found in your DNA. Much more research is still needed. 

If you, a friend or a family member is struggling with a gambling problem, you can find a list of support organizations here.

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