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Gambling With Addiction

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"Many of these women are not the regular image of a gambler. They are mostly recent gamblers, often retired mothers that went to gamble a little, got distracted, and came out with a huge headache. They are bewildered and can't believe what has happened to their lives."

Tavares suggests two possible interpretations for the more rapid progression: Either women are more vulnerable to addiction than men, or they more likely to seek treatment earlier. But he says he is skeptical of the latter explanation, saying that there are a host of social and cultural reasons why women are likely not to seek treatment. "It's still an open question, but we think there is something related to a gender-specific vulnerability," he says.

Tavares, who is with the Addiction Center at the University of Calgary in Alberta, presented his research at the recent annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association held in New Orleans.

Interestingly, Tavares and colleagues also found that women generally have access to a narrower range of gambling outlets but that the games they do participate in tend to be the most addictive. Those outlets include the old and the new: bingo and video lottery terminals.

The latter are video simulations of games such as poker, often found in casinos but also in many bars and lounges. Their addictive appeal, Tavares says, lies in the fact that they offer rapid, nearly immediate, gratification. "Video lottery terminals are the most common gambling devices," he says. "It's a really fast game. You place a coin in the slot, push a button, and have a result almost immediately."

Gambling addiction expert Nancy Petry, PhD, tells WebMD that the findings of a later age of onset and more rapid progression to seeking treatment roughly mirror what she and other researchers looking at gender differences among gamblers have found. But she believes the faster progression to treatment likely reflects a greater willingness among women to seek treatment, rather than any heightened vulnerability to addiction.

Nevertheless, one thing is unequivocally clear: The number of women gamblers in treatment has exploded.

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