A national expert says research in Iowa and other parts of the country is helping unlock some of the mystery of problem gambling. Christine Reilly, the executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, says knowledge of the problem is growing with scientific research.
Reilly says they think too much "junk science" has colored people’s awareness of the issue and they want to be sure they have the best scientific data on the subject. She says they get surprised about some of the data and are continually re-working the way they think about the addiction as new data come in.
Reilly says they do know the number of people with a very severe disorder is small. She says about 1% are severe and another 2% have what’s called subclinical, or on the borderline of becoming severe. Reilly says they want to be able to find those borderline people before they get sicker. A study at the University of Iowa centered on the genetic link to gambling.
Reilly says another study that gave them some new insight involved casino employees. She says that study was important because those employees are in a gambling atmosphere almost every day. Reilly says the casino employees do have a slightly higher rate of problems with gambling, along with smoking and alcohol use.
But, she says they also found over time a lot of the casino employees move back toward a healthier situation, which has raised questions about the disorder, as researchers believe people are at different levels of addiction with the ability to change.
While there has been a lot of new research on problem gambling, Reilly says one big question remains unanswered. "We still don’t really know why somebody develops a gambling addiction," Reilly says, "why do most Americans who gamble don’t get in trouble — why does this one percent get into horrible trouble." She says that is what scientists are trying to find out by looking at the various aspects to see if it’s a genetic pre-disposition or their social environment.
Reilly says the why question is even more a mystery when you consider problem gamblers are aware of the consequences. "A lot of the people, they know its a problem, and they know they’re not going to win, but they can’t stop," Reilly says.
She says researchers just don’t know what they are dealing with, but they do know that 75% of the people who’re problem gamblers had other psychiatric problems before developing the gambling addiction. So researchers know there’s a strong connection with depression, bi-polar disorder and other addictions.
Reilly talked about the problem gambling research Thursday with the State Racing and Gaming Commission.