50% of pathological gamblers in Australia are women
20% more Australians gamble than Americans

A recent study published in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry has found that genes do indeed play a part in addictive behaviours. This is at least so in the case of gambling.

Wendy Slutske, co-author of the study Genetic and Environmental Influences on Disordered Gambling in Men and Women conducted by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research said “previous research in men showed that gambling addiction can run in the family. This study extends those finding to include women.”

The objectives of the study was to investigate the role of genetic and environmental risk factors in the development of disordered gambling (DG) among women and to also determine the extent to which the genetic and environmental risk of DG among women differed quantitatively or qualitatively from the risk of DG among men. (Disordered gambling – DG – refers to the full continuum of gambling-related problems).

In order to do this the study took 2,899 pairs of both identical (identical genetic makeup) and fraternal (some shared genes) twins, aged between 32 and 43 years old and questioned them and their family and friends about their gambling habits. 57% of the participants were women.

It was found that nearly all of the 4,764 individuals questioned participated in gambling of some kind. 1% of the women met the criteria for problem gambling, compared to 3% of the men. The men were also twice as likely to be gambling addicts.

The study also found that “if your twin has a gambling problem, you’re more likely to develop one too if you’re an identical twin than if you’re a fraternal twin,” these results suggest that shared genes play a role.

The researchers concluded that, “shared environmental factors do not explain” variations in addictive behaviours.

The study established that “there was no evidence for shared environmental influences contributing to variation in disordered gambling (DG) liability. There was no evidence for quantitative or qualitative sex differences in the causes of variation in disordered gambling liability.”

The study concluded by saying that genes were as important in the etiology of disordered gambling in women as they were in men and that the susceptibility genes contributing to variation in liability for DG were likely to overlap considerably in men and women.

“Like alcoholism, problem gambling is a complex disorder,” Slutske said. “The answer will be in a collection of genes, maybe 10 or 100, we don’t know how many, but each gene will increase the risk slightly for developing those problems.”

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: Archives of General Psychiatry, June 2010;67(6):624-630.  Authors: Wendy S. Slutske, MD; Madeline H. Meier (University of Missouri – Columbia) PhD; Gu Zhu, , MA; Nicholas G. Martin, PhD (Queensland Institute of Medical Research)