NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is Pathological Gambling Hereditary?

Not exactly, says Dr. Donald Black, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, citing the fact that pathological gambling is a social construct rather than an inheritable trait. During the first Track A: Scientific and Clinical session today, Black explained that what are hereditary are certain traits, such as impulsivity and reward dependence, that may predispose an individual to pathological gambling. But, he points out, environmental triggers must be present as well in order for an individual to develop of pathological gambling, meaning that without an available way or means to gamble, a person can’t be a pathological gambler.

In his presentation, Black focused on two family studies he’s conducted that look at the occurrence of pathological gambling among family members. According to Black, a family study can tell us whether a disorder is familial; can demonstrate patterns of familial aggregation of illness, meaning it can uncover what other disorders run in the family, which therefore might tell us what a disorder might be related to, in turn giving treatment providers other specific factors and illnesses to look for in addition to problem gambling indicators. Additionally, family studies can suggest proper classification of the disorder, allowing researchers and treatment providers to better define the disorder and leading to treatment approaches focused on genetics.

Black’s research revealed that disordered gambling runs in families. Additionally, he found that substance misuse and anti-social personality disorders also tend to run in these pathological gambling families. And, in an interesting finding, Black’s research showed that the families in which pathological gambling runs are large and chaotic, a fact which Black says complicates research efforts.

Perhaps the most important reason to study the genetics of pathological gambling is that it can lead to the development of new treatments for the disorder. Contributing further to the body of knowledge on the genetics of pathological gambling, Black will build on one of his small family studies, which was funded by the NCRG, to conduct a larger study of approximately 200 families which will be funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Please visit the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders’ NCRG Conference Resource Page to view Black’s family interview study and an article from The WAGER on his research. Enter the case sensitive password: institute when prompted. You can also read the Responsible Gaming Quarterly article on Black’s research by clicking on the linked publication title.


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