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GRUBER COLUMN: A changing view of problem gambling

GRUBER COLUMN: A changing view of problem gambling

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Problem gambling has often been described as a “hidden addiction.” It doesn’t have the outward signs that are observed with other addictions like alcohol or drugs. It also hasn’t received the same attention as those addictive behaviors.

With the recent publication of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), some changes are taking place. DSM 5, published by the American Psychiatric Association, has a number of significant changes including the way problem gambling is categorized.

In the past, pathological gambling has been classified as an Impulse Control Disorder. But now, Gambling Addiction is included in the Addiction and Related Disorders along with alcohol and drug addictions. The DSM Task Force found that there is substantive research that supports the position that pathological gambling and substance-use disorders are very similar in the way they affect the brain and the neurological reward system of reward and aggression.

Officially changing the name to “Gambling Addiction” is a welcome revision for many who have been concerned that the label “pathological” only reinforces the stigma of being a problem gambler.

The new criteria for the diagnosis of a Gambling Addiction in DSM 5 include:

• Is he or she preoccupied with gambling?

• Does he or she need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement?

• Has the gambler made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling?

• Is the gambler irritable or restless when trying to cut back or stop gambling?

• Does he or she gamble as a way of escaping from problems?

• Does the gambler go back to gamble more to recoup losses?

• Does he or she lie to family members, therapists or others to conceal the extent of gambling?

• Has the gambler jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or opportunity as a result of gambling?

• Does he or she rely on others to provide money to deal with a financial situation caused by gambling?

Answering yes to five or more of these criteria is an indication of a Gambling Addiction.

While it may take some time to realize the full impact of these significant changes in DSM 5, it is generally viewed as a positive change for those actively involved in treating gambling addictions and working to increase public awareness of this issue.

Of course, most people who engage in gambling can do so for fun and entertainment. But for those addicted to gambling, the result can be devastating for the individual as well as his or her family, friends, employer and co-workers. While there likely won’t be a lot of immediate changes, the revisions included in DSM 5 could have a significant impact on the way people look at gambling addictions in the future.

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling provides resources, public awareness and education on problem and pathological gambling disorders while maintaining strict neutrality on the issue of legalized gambling. For more information, visit www.wi-prob

Rose Gruber is executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling.


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