[Pathological gambling: risk factors]

G Bouju, M Grall-Bronnec, M Landreat-Guillou, J-L Venisse
L'Encéphale 2011, 37 (4): 322-31

CONTEXT AND OBJECTIVE: In France, consumption of gambling games increased by 148% between 1960 and 2005. In 2004, gamblers lost approximately 0.9% of household income, compared to 0.4% in 1960. This represents approximately 134 Euros per year and per head. In spite of this important increase, the level remains lower than the European average (1%). However, gambling practices may continue to escalate in France in the next few years, particularly with the recent announce of the legalisation of online games and sports betting. With the spread of legalised gambling, pathological gambling rates may increase in France in the next years, in response to more widely available and more attractive gambling opportunities. In this context, there is a need for better understanding of the risk factors that are implicated in the development and maintenance of pathological gambling.

METHODS: This paper briefly describes the major risk factors for pathological gambling by examining the recent published literature available during the first quarter of 2008. This documentary basis was collected by Inserm for the collective expert report procedure on Gambling (contexts and addictions). Seventy-two articles focusing on risk factors for pathological gambling were considered in this review. Only 47 of them were taken into account for analysis. The selection of these 47 publications was based on the guide on literature analysis established by the French National Agency for Accreditation and Assessment in Health (ANAES, 2000). Some publications from more recent literature have also been added, mostly about Internet gambling.

RESULTS: We identify three major types of risk factors implicated in gambling problems: some of them are related to the subject (individual factors), others are related to the object of the addiction, here the gambling activity by itself (structural factors), and the last are related to environment (contextual or situational factors). Thus, the development and maintenance of pathological gambling seems to be conditioned by the interaction of a person and a gambling activity, in a particular context. This conceptual model is based on the well-known theory of Olivenstein on toxicomania, which was proposed in the seventies. The structural factors that appeared to be highly related to pathological gambling development and maintenance are payment modality, entertaining dimension, temporality, reward level, educational messages, gambling ambiance, gambling medium and part of hazard. Among contextual factors, availability and accessibility of gambling opportunities are well known. However, social and economic factors (e.g. culture, ethnicity, religion, education) are also important. Lastly, among individual factors, psychosocial factors are gender, age, familial and personal antecedents and psychiatric comorbidities. Neurobiological factors are not discussed here.

CONCLUSIONS: This paper briefly summarises risk factors for development and maintenance of pathological gambling. It highlights that these factors are very similar to those that are implicated in substance use disorders, except for the gambling activity and context. Prevention regarding behavioural addictions should, in the future, take advantage of the findings on substance use disorder, since behavioural addictions are less known. Conversely, it seems obvious that findings on pathological gambling, and more widely behavioural addictions, could highlight all types of addiction. It appears that this fact is especially valid with regards to the evolution and stability of addictive status, which must be taken into account for treatment proposals.

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