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Gamblers and Substance Abusers Share Traits

Researchers Find Similar Personalities for Problem Gamblers and Substance Abusers

WebMD Health News

July 5, 2005 -- People with gambling and substance abuse problems may share similar personalities, a new study shows.

Researchers found that problem gamblers display many similar personality traits, such as rebelliousness, anger, and being a risk taker, with people who abuse alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine.

They say certain shared personality traits may help explain why problem gambling and substance abuse often go together. The findings may lead to better treatments for these problems.

What Makes an Addictive Personality?

In the study, which appears in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers analyzed personality assessments of nearly 1,000 18-year-old men and women from Dunedin, New Zealand, some of whom were diagnosed with problem gambling, alcohol, marijuana, or nicotine use by the time they were 21.

First, researchers examined the associations between problem gambling and each of the three substance-abuse disorders. Then they compared 10 basic personality variations among people in each disorder group to those who did not develop gambling or substance abuse problems.

The personality profile associated with problem gambling was very similar to that associated with other substance-related addictive disorders, they write.

They found that people with problem gambling in the past year were three times as likely to have one of the three substance-abuse disorders. Researchers say the magnitude of this association is nearly as strong as the well-established association between alcohol and nicotine dependence.

The study also showed that young adults with gambling problems were more likely to score higher on personality measures of negative emotions and impulsive and risk-taking behavior at age 18 than others.

Negative emotional traits included nervousness or worry, anger or aggressiveness, and feeling mistreated or victimized.

Researchers say focusing on these basic personality traits may be a promising approach to understanding why people often suffer from both gambling and substance-abuse problems.

Taken together, the findings raise the possibility that genetically influenced aspects of personality -- especially low behavioral control -- may be partially responsible for the association between problem gambling and addictive disorders, they write.

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