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New Research Examines Gender Differences in Disordered Gambling, Natural Recovery and Treatment Seeking

by: Institute Staff | May 27, 2010

Do men and women have the same experience with gambling problems or with recovery? Or, are there gender differences that have been observed in studies of other addictive behaviors? The following is an excerpt from the article, “New Study Explores Gender Differences in Treatment-Seeking, Recovery,” which was originally published in the spring 2010 edition of Responsible Gaming Quarterly.

Women are more likely than men to seek treatment for and recover from pathological gambling, although the vast majority of people are able to recover from pathological gambling without formal treatment, according to a new study published in Twin Research and Human Genetics.

The study, conducted by Wendy S. Slutske from the University of Missouri, Alex Blaszczynski from the University of Sydney and Nicholas G. Martin from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, is the first ever to document gender differences in treatment-seeking and recovery from pathological gambling. Participants in the study were 4,764 members of the Australian Twin Registry Cohort II sample.

Among the participants, 104 individuals (2.2 percent) had a lifetime history of pathological gambling based on DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. The lifetime prevalence rate was significantly higher among men (3.5 percent) than among women (1.3 percent).

Women with a history of pathological gambling were more likely than men to recognize a problem with their gambling behavior (91 percent vs. 74 percent, respectively). Regardless of recognition, only 20 (19 percent) of the 104 individuals with a history of pathological gambling reported seeking treatment at some point for their gambling problems, and women were significantly more likely to have sought treatment than men (32 percent vs. 13 percent, respectively). The study notes that, while women are significantly less likely to suffer from pathological gambling than men, there commonly are a nearly equal number of men and women in treatment samples due to the fact that women are far more likely to seek treatment.

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According to the study, 44 individuals with a history of pathological gambling, or 42 percent of the PG sample, reported no pathological gambling symptoms during the past year, indicating they had recovered. More women (56 percent) experienced recovery than men (36 percent). Among the recovered gamblers, however, nearly 82 percent had not sought treatment for their gambling problems, and thus, according to the study, could be classified as natural recoveries. Therefore, among all the individuals in the sample suffering from pathological gambling, a full 35 percent experienced natural recovery. Rates of natural recovery were similar among men and women.

The results have several implications for gamblers, treatment providers and public health officials. According to the study, the gender differences in pathological gambling recovery rates may indicate that the disorder is more chronic and intractable among men than among women. Additionally, the fact that so many pathological gamblers do not seek treatment indicates there may be an increased need for treatment approaches – particularly among men – that accommodate client ambivalence, such as motivational interviewing. Men also may be more open to newer self-help treatments or brief interventions developed to help people recover from pathological gambling on their own. These types of treatments also could appeal to those with less severe gambling problems, who also tend not to seek treatment.

“I think it definitely is a good idea to have a variety of approaches available to appeal to different kinds of people.” Slutske said. “Certain types of psychotherapy may not be for everybody. I do wonder if more people would be interested in seeking treatment if there were more options available.”

Wendy S. Slutske is Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri. Her research interests include explaining the genetic and environmental underpinnings of alcohol use disorders and other addictive/disinhibitory disorders and the description and classification of addictive/disinhibitory disorders. For more information about her research, please visit her page at the University of Missouri Department of Psychology Website.

For the full article and additional details about the study, see pages 9-10 of the spring 2010 Responsible Gaming Quarterly.


References

Slutske W.S., Blaszczynski A., Martin N.G., (2009). Sex differences in the rates of recovery, treatment-seeking, and natural recovery in pathological gambling results from an Australian community-based twin survey. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 12(5), 425-432.

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