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  November 19, 2001

Health Center Study Identifies Gender
Differences Among Problem Gamblers

Among male and female problem gamblers, there are some major differences, according to a new study on treatments for problem gamblers.

The study finds that:

  • Women start gambling later in life and enter treatment after experiencing fewer years of problems than men.

  • Women gamblers have fewer alcohol problems than men, but they are more likely to be living with a spouse with an alcohol problem.

  • Women gamblers have fewer legal difficulties than men.

  • Although women and men spend about the same amount of money gambling each month prior to entering treatment, women are more likely than men to have filed for bankruptcy.

  • Women are more likely than men to live with someone who has a gambling problem.

"These variations may have real implications for the treatment of problem gamblers," says Nancy Petry, a psychologist in the psychiatry department at the UConn Health Center, who is the principal investigator on the nation's first controlled study on treatments for problem gamblers.

"There is a real need for effective treatment," she says, "because the number of problem gamblers is increasing dramatically, right along with the number of legal gambling outlets." Foxwoods Casino in southeastern Connecticut is the largest casino in the world, and another Connecticut casino, Mohegan Sun, recently completed a $1 billion expansion. Together, the two casinos do about $2 billion in business annually.

The study by Petry, a nationally recognized scholar in addiction research, is one of the first empirical reports to describe gender differences among treatment-seeking pathological gamblers. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health, focuses on 115 people aged 18 or older who were admitted to a treatment study for pathological or problem gambling at the Health Center.

The study shows that the female problem gamblers were on average older (48.1 years) than male problem gamblers (43.8 years), and that the women preferred slot machines, while the men preferred cards.

The study confirms a link between pathological gambling and substance abuse, especially among the men studied, who were more than twice as likely to have had prior treatment for substance abuse than the women.

"Practically, this means that successful treatment strategies should identify and adjust to the needs of gamblers with and without past substance abuse treatment," says Petry.

Nearly 22 percent of the women in the study lived with someone with a current alcohol problem, compared to 7.1 percent of the men. "This suggests that the home life for females may be more unstable or stressful than it is for males," says Petry.

"Ultimately, this means that chances for successful treatment may decline when the client is living with an alcoholic partner," she adds.

In the month before entering treatment, both males and females gambled more than 13 days and spent more than $2,600. Both had relatives who gamble regularly, suggesting a family context in which gambling is common.

The study also found that men were more than five times as likely to have been involved in illegal activities to support gambling than the women. Males in the study were nearly three times more likely to have served time in jail than the females.

"The patterns may vary across the country or among different populations and our results may not be applicable to gamblers who don't seek treatment," Petry says. According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, fewer than 10 percent of compulsive gamblers seek treatment; these low rates are, in part, related to the scarcity of effective treatments available.

Petry is recruiting subjects for the federally funded study of treatment options for compulsive gambling. For more information on the study, or to participate, call (860) 679-2177.

Kristina Goodnough

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