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Problem gamblers share personality profiles of substance abusers

The JAMA Network Journals

CHICAGO — Individuals with problem gambling behavior have personality profiles similar to the profiles of those with alcohol, marijuana and nicotine-associated addictive disorders, according to an article in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

It has been difficult to identify personality traits associated with problem gambling because most previous studies have drawn subjects from those seeking treatment for a gambling disorder, who are unlikely to be representative of the majority of individuals in the community with gambling problems, according to background information in the article. Previous studies have also shown problem gambling associated with alcohol dependence and suggested an association with drug and nicotine dependence as well.

Wendy S. Slutske, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri-Columbia, and colleagues compared personality assessments obtained in 1991-1992 for 939 young adults (475 men and 464 women) from Dunedin, New Zealand, who were 18 years old, with diagnoses of problem gambling and alcohol, cannabis [marijuana] and nicotine dependence in the previous year based on structured interviews conducted when the individuals were 21 years old in 1993-1994. The researchers conducted two analyses of the data. In the first, the researchers examined the associations between problem gambling and each of three substance abuse disorders (alcohol, cannabis and nicotine). In the second, the researchers examined the independent association of 10 basic aspects of personality variation with problem gambling and each of the three substance addictive disorders.

"Past-year problem gambling was significantly associated with past-year alcohol dependence, cannabis dependence, and nicotine dependence," the authors report. "The associations between problem gambling and the three substance use disorders were similar in magnitude and were nearly as large as the well-established association between alcohol and nicotine dependence." Young adults with a problem gambling diagnosis in the year before they turned 21 were, on average, more likely to have high scores for negative emotionality and for impulsive and risk-taking behavior on personality tests taken at age 18 years, the researchers found. "In particular, young adults with a diagnosis of problem gambling were characterized by negative emotions such as nervousness or worry, anger or aggressiveness, feeling mistreated or victimized, and unconstrained behaviors of risk-taking, impulsivity, and rebelliousness," they write.

"A focus on more basic traits, such as individual differences in personality, is a promising approach for understanding the high rate of comorbidity [conditions which occur together] of pathological and problem gambling with other addictive disorders," the authors write. "In the present study, the personality profile associated with problem gambling was strikingly similar to the profiles associated with alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine dependence, ... "


(Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005; 62: 769-775. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor's Note: The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit is supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council. This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., the William T. Grant Foundation, New York and the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, London, England.

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