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New Research Explores the Genetic Links Between Disordered Gambling and Anxiety Disorders

by: Institute Staff | May 10, 2011

To understand pathological gambling (PG) one must understand the disorders that co-occur with PG. A 2005 study of more than 43,000 representative Americans found that people with PG often have other mental health disorders at the same time (called comorbid disorders). Examples of these include alcohol use disorders (73 percent), drug use disorders (38 percent), mood disorders (49 percent), anxiety disorders (41 percent) and personality disorders (60 percent) (N. M. Petry, Stinson, & Grant, 2005). While it is reasonable to hypothesize that genetic and environmental factors are both responsible for these co-occurrences, more research is necessary to learn how the two variables work together. One study that addresses these questions was recently published in the Journal of Affective Disorders (Giddens, Xian, Scherrer, Eisen, & Potenza, 2011). The study used data from 7,869 male twins to examine the relationship between PG and two anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder (PD).     

The researchers examined data from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry (VET-R) collected in 1992. It is unusual for researchers to examine data that is this old because new and better instruments and sampling methods are now available. However, genetic contributions to disease can only be studied using data from monozygotic twins, twins with identical DNA.  The difficulty of finding twins in the numbers necessary to do meaningful research requires researchers to use previously collected twin data, such as that from the VET-R. The researchers used statistical modeling to estimate the influence of genetics on the relationship between PG and GAD, and between PG and PD.

The data showed the existence of shared genetic contributions between PG, GAD, and PD. This suggests that there are specific genes that contribute to PG and anxiety disorders (possibly by influencing affect regulation or responsiveness to stress). In addition to this, the data showed that early life experiences did not affect how PG interacted with each anxiety disorder in the same way. Shared life experiences affected the development of PG and PD, while distinct experiences affected the development of PG and GAD. This finding suggests that while the co-occurrence of PG and both anxiety disorders is caused in part by genetic factors, the two anxiety disorders are influenced by different environmental factors. These findings would benefit from further study, as well as twin studies that include women and younger people in their samples.      

More information about the article is available on the website of the Journal of Affective Disorders. Are you surprised by these findings? Let us know in the Comments section below.

References

Giddens, J. L., Xian, H., Scherrer, J. F., Eisen, S. A., & Potenza, M. N. (2011). Shared genetic contributions to anxiety disorders and pathological gambling in a male population. Journal of Affective Disorders. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.03.008

Petry, N. M., Stinson, F. S., & Grant, B. F. (2005). Comorbidity of DSM-IV pathological gambling and other psychiatric disorders: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. J Clin Psychiatry, 66(5), 564-74.

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