New Study Reveals Public Perceptions Of Gambling Disorders And Recovery

Society’s beliefs about a health condition can have a huge impact on the people who suffer from the disorder. Public opinion can influence public health policy, public and private harm minimization efforts, research funds, and treatment support. At the individual level, negative public views of a disease and the stigma it creates can strongly discourage individuals from admitting that they have the problem and seeking treatment. There is little data available on public opinion of gambling disorders; however, a new study published in theJournal of Gambling Studiesfills this void with a systematic examination of public opinion on gambling disorders (Cunningham, Cordingley, Hodgins, & Toneatto, 2011).

Researchers conducted telephone surveys with 8,467 adults in the Toronto area, questioning people on their opinions of how to best understand gambling disorders (as a “disease or illness”, “wrongdoing”, “habit, not disease”, or “addiction similar to drug addiction”), whether people with gambling disorders can get well on their own or must seek treatment to improve, and whether people with gambling disorders can reduce their gambling to that of a social gambler or if they need to quit altogether. The survey also gathered information on the gambling behavior and demographics of the respondents.

The researchers found that most people viewed gambling disorders as an addiction similar to drug addiction, with one-third seeing it as a habit and 17 percent viewing it as a form of wrongdoing. Respondents were split roughly in half as to whether treatment was needed to recover from a gambling disorder, and three out of four thought that abstinence from gambling activities was required for recovery. Examining the demographics, the researchers found that being female, married, younger, and without gambling problems were associated with believing that treatment and abstinence were necessary. Also, people who viewed gambling problems as a disease or addiction also believed that treatment and abstinence were needed for recovery.

The researchers noted that public perceptions reported in their study are very similar to those found in a 2003 study that examined the public’s views on alcohol use, with 71 percent of respondents saying that abstinence was required for recovery in both surveys (Cunningham, Blomqvist, & Cordingley, 2007). This popularly held belief is also the view of much of the scientific community as reflected by the upcoming changes in the way gambling disorders are defined by the American Psychiatric Association (as we highlighted in theApril 2010 edition of Issues & Insights).

Finally, the researchers concluded that people with gambling disorders were less likely than others to think that treatment and abstinence were required for recovery. This may be because many people who meet the clinical guidelines for a gambling disorder do not think they have a problem, and even those who believe they do have a problem are unlikely to seek treatment (Suurvali, Hodgins, Toneatto, & Cunningham, 2008).

More information on the article inJournal of Gambling Studiesis available onthe journal’s website. As always, we welcome your thoughts and questions in the Comments section below.


Cunningham, J. A., Blomqvist, J., & Cordingley, J. (2007). Beliefs about drinking problems: results from a general population telephone survey.Addictive Behaviors,32(1), 166-169. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2006.03.011

Cunningham, J. A., Cordingley, J., Hodgins, D. C., & Toneatto, T. (2011). Beliefs About Gambling Problems and Recovery: Results from a General Population Telephone Survey.Journal of Gambling Studies / Co-Sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling and Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming. doi:10.1007/s10899-010-9231-z

Suurvali, H., Hodgins, D., Toneatto, T., & Cunningham, J. (2008). Treatment seeking among Ontario problem gamblers: results of a population survey.Psychiatric Services (Washington, D.C.),59(11), 1343-1346. doi:10.1176/

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