The Misperceptions Of Disordered Gambling

Last week, the American Psychological Association (APA) sponsored a“Mental Health Blog Party”where they encouraged everyone to blog about what mental health means to them, either as individuals or mental health professionals. More than 130 blogs were posted and more than 500 people participated on Twitter (hashtag#mhblogday), with topics ranging from depression and bipolar disorder to advising parents on how to talk to their children about drug and alcohol abuse. One concept that resonated throughout the wide variety of topics was the public’s misperception and stigma associated with mental health issues. The same is true for the field of gambling disorders. Even though pathological gambling was not addressed by any blogger for the APA’s blog party, we believe it is important for it to be a part of the conversation.

Rates of those who have experienced gambling disorders are often questioned, even though researchers have published their findings in high-quality peer-reviewed publications about this matter. In a 1999 report, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions results that the prevalence of pathological gambling in the U.S. adult population is approximately 1 percent. (National Research Council, 1999). In 2008, researchers from the Harvard Medical School Department of Health Care Policy found that the lifetime prevalence rate of 0.7 percent for pathological gambling and 2.3 percent for problem gambling (Kessler et. al., 2008).

The debate over whether or not pathological gambling is a chronic disorder is also somewhat confusing for the general public and media. Recent research suggests that pathological gambling may not necessarily become more severe over the years. Some individuals may improve or worsen over time, all depending on their level of gambling disorder (LaPlante, D.A. et all, 2008).

Another misperception happens when pathological gambling is viewed as its own singular battle and not connected to other mental health issues. As with all other addictive behaviors, people who struggle with gambling problems tend to have other psychological problems such as depression or anxiety. Because of this fact, it is difficult to separate the two or determine if one disorder has more influence over another. The Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy discovered that those with any psychiatric disorder are 17.4 times more likely to develop pathological gambling than those without such problems. This result was from the researchers’ analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Republication (NCS-R), a landmark study of mental health in America that conducted face-to-face interviews with 9,982 individuals (Kessler et. al., 2008).

Regardless of commonly held beliefs about gambling disorders, it is critically important to weigh the misperceptions and stigmas of the disorder against empirical and published research on the matter. As theNational Association of Mental Illness, Massachusetts Chapterblogged, “the stigma ends when we end it.” The NCRG will be a part of the next large gathering of mental health professionals and bloggers, helping to facilitate the conversation about gambling disorders and assist an understanding of the research that is available.

Do you have a comment or question about pathological gambling, it’s comorbidity with other mental health issues or just general resource needs for the NCRG team? Leave us a comment below or connect with us onFacebookorTwitter!


Kessler, R.C., Hwang, I., LaBrie, R.A., Petukhova, M., Sampson, N.A., Winters, K.C., & Shaffer, H.J. (2008).DSM-IVpathological gambling in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication [Electronic Version].Psychological Medicine,1-10. Advance online publication. Retrieved February 7, 2008. Doi:10.1017/S0033291708002900.)

LaPlante, D.A., Nelson, S.E., LaBrie, R.A., & Shaffer, H.J. (2008). Stability and progression of disordered gambling: Lessons from longitudinal studies.The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 53,52-60.

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