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UK doctors urged to screen for problem gambling symptoms

TAGs: problem gambling

uk-doctors-screen-problem-gambling-symptomsA new problem gambling study is making headlines in the UK but the headline going unreported is just how similar it is to previous studies of its type.

A new study released by the British Journal of General Practice surveyed 1,058 individuals who paid visits to 11 different GP clinics in Bristol. The researchers wanted to determine whether the patients were suffering from problem gambling in addition to the original reasons behind their visits.

The survey found that 0.9% of these patients qualified as problem gamblers, while 4.3% reported problems that were “low to moderate in severity.” These ratios are similar to those previously reported in multiple jurisdictions, including the UK, British Columbia, Singapore and Macau.

The survey also found that risky alcohol use was associated with a nearly threefold increase in problem gambling symptoms while drug use was associated with a fivefold increase. Here again, multiple studies have confirmed that problem gamblers have difficulty saying no to lots of things besides gambling, most likely due to mounting evidence that their brains are wired differently from ‘normal’ people.

The survey’s authors suggested their findings indicate that there’s a greater role for doctors to play in screening for problem gambling behavior among patients who visit their clinics. (The US military recently came to the same conclusion based on fears that gambling problems in the ranks could compromise military readiness.)

Yet the predominant UK media takeaway from the study seems to be that problem gambling is on the rise, when in fact the numbers clearly demonstrate that problem gambling rates have remained more or less constant over the past decade, despite a significant increase in both the availability and variety of gambling options during this period.

The GP survey did find elevated levels of problem gambling symptoms among young males, similar to findings by earlier studies. But young males are also more likely to binge drink, crash their cars, sleep with their best mate’s girlfriend and get into fist fights on high streets on a Saturday night.

The fact that this age-related gambling phenomenon hasn’t tracked upward through the demographics over the years indicates that the overwhelming majority of young males do, in time, learn to temper their risky behavior. Now if only the anti-gambling media could learn to temper their alarmist rhetoric, we’d be getting somewhere.

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