Age appears to play a critical factor for the development of pathological gambling, and the clinical course the addiction may follow.
In a new study, researchers reviewed more than 2,300 patients aged from 17 to 86 years and discovered that some personality traits associated with age are risk factors in different stages of life.
For example, younger patients (from 17 to 35 years) are more likely to be impulsive and seek new sensations that act as precipitating factors of gambling.
In contrast, older patients (from 55 to 86 years) are less impulsive and thrill-seeking yet more likely to have risk factors such as anxiety and excessive worrying.
“Older people do not gamble to seek awards or for the challenge of winning or for competitiveness as young people do, but they gamble to modulate negative emotional states,” said Susana Jiménez-Murcia, Ph.D., lead researcher.
“Older patients try to flee from loneliness, dissatisfaction or even physical discomfort.”
“The only personality factor that does not vary with age is self-direction, the ability to take control of our lives, to be persistent with a goal,” said Jiménez-Murcia.
Researchers believe the current study confirms that self-direction “is low at all stages and that could be one of the keys to the treatment and prevention of the disorder.”
Investigators discovered young patients are associated with a higher severity in their gambling conduct. “Early intervention in these patients allows us to understand the causes of the problem in the early stages and we can give to patients tools to control it.”
A key finding from the study is that pathological gambling is a temporary and episodic condition in patient’s life.
“We observe,” Jimenez said, “that at certain times of the life, some social, environmental and personal factors can ease to control this behavior but in other moments it is not so easy, and the psychopathology could be more serious. But the good news is that it is not a chronic disorder for life.”
For individuals aged from 55 to 86 years, the gambling addiction is associated with health problems, while in middle age the disorder is associated with economic problems.
Gender also is a variable in the presentation of the addiction as researchers detected a later gambling onset in women, from 35 to 40 years, while men begin to gamble younger.
Gambling has also changed with the times as recent profiles reflect online gambling opportunities.
“We see younger, college-educated and higher socioeconomic level patients. We must continue working to promote responsible gaming and also to inform of the potential risk of gambling.”