Amount Spent While Gambling Can Signal Addiction

rich woman playing roulette

The amount of money spent while gambling helps predict the appearance of problematic gambling behaviors, researchers from The Australian National University and Southern Cross University have found.

While most people who gamble don’t experience serious problems, some people gradually or rapidly start gambling in a pattern that puts them at risk for significant personal, social or financial harm. The American Psychiatric Association maintains a diagnosis called gambling disorder specifically for substantially affected individuals. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Addiction, researchers from two Australian universities used a screening tool called the Problem Gambling Severity Index to determine if the amount of money a person spends while gambling helps predict his or her chances of falling into a harmful pattern of gambling behavior.

Gambling Disorder

The terms for diagnosing gambling disorder were set forth by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013 as a modification of a previously existing condition called pathological gambling. Unlike pathological gambling, which belonged to a group of conditions known as impulse control disorders, gambling disorder belongs to a group of conditions called substance-related and addictive disorders. The APA made this switch in diagnostic categories in recognition of the fact that people with serious gambling problems often meet the criteria for a form of non-substance-based addiction called behavioral addiction or process addiction. The organization changed the name of the condition, in part, in response to the stigma surrounding the word “pathological,” which could be construed as blaming people for their gambling addictions. To receive a gambling disorder diagnosis, a person must have a minimum number of symptoms such as an inability to control gambling participation, involvement in riskier and riskier gambling activities, use of deceit to hide gambling involvement and use of gambling as an escape from emotional issues or personal difficulties.

The Problem Gambling Severity Index

The Problem Gambling Severity Index was developed by Canadian researchers as a screening tool for detecting the presence of a dysfunctional pattern of gambling. The tool contains nine questions that probe issues such as betting in excessive amounts while gambling, using risky gambling as a source of excitement, borrowing money to fund gambling, other people’s perceptions of one’s gambling behaviors and self-perception of the existence of gambling problems. Each of these questions is answerable on a scale of 0 to 3; minimally affected people receive a score of 0 for each question, while maximally affected people receive a score of 3. People with a total score of 8 or more likely have diagnosable gambling problems. However, a doctor would still need to make a further assessment before making a gambling disorder diagnosis for any individual.

Amount of Money Spent

In the study published in Addiction, the researchers from The Australian National University and Southern Cross University used a large-scale project involving 7,049 Australian adults to explore the connection between the amount spent on gambling and the chances of having significant gambling problems. All of the participants participated in gambling by playing some sort of modern electronic game at one of 62 designated locations. The researchers gathered data on expenditures for gambling at these locations, and used mail-in surveys to determine where each person gambled. They also used the surveys to administer the Problem Gambling Severity Index to each study participant.

The researchers analyzed the amount of money spent per person at each gambling location and compared the totals to the individual outcomes of the Problem Gambling Severity Index. They concluded that the amount of money spent while gambling does indeed help predict the appearance of significantly problematic gambling behaviors. Specifically, they found that as an individual’s monthly expenditures on electronic gambling rose from $10 to $150 (in Australian currency), his or her odds of receiving a high score on the Problem Gambling Severity Index doubled from roughly 9 percent to roughly 18 percent.

The study’s authors were testing a theoretical model of gambling behavior called the Total Consumption Theory, which holds that the amount of money a population spends on gambling helps set the level of risk for gambling problems in that population. They believe that the results of their project support the validity of this theory. It’s important to note that the methods used by the research team did not actually determine how much money any given person spent on electronic gambling. Instead, in line with the terms of the Total Consumption Theory, the team looked at the average amount of money spent by the study participants as a whole.

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