Gambling and addiction: Rider psychology professor explores sources and treatment

by Administrator
Gambling is big business. The casino industry alone supports the employment of 1.8 million Americans, according to the American Gaming Association. 
Most people can participate in gambling activities in the casino or online with no detrimental effects to their health. However, Dr. Mack Costello, an assistant professor of psychology at Rider University, says that a portion of the population will develop a behavioral addiction to gambling through these, and other, activities. 
On April 7, Dr. Costello appeared on “Health 411,” a radio program presented by Rider University's Health Studies Institute, to discuss gambling and addiction and the use of Applied Behavior Analysis to change behavior.

Interview highlights

On the point when gambling becomes a problem
Most adults gamble with games of chance at some point in their lives. There is a percentage, estimated between one and five percent of the population, who develop problems or serious problems with gambling. Gambling disorder is considered a behavioral addiction. There are also most likely genetic components and environmental components that lead a person to disordered gambling or problem gambling. When that exists, costs can be very high from a public health perspective and certainly to the person and their loved ones.  
On the susceptibility of becoming addicted to gambling
There are a variety of risk factors. Twin studies and general prevalence data show us that men are more often disordered gamblers, but the genetics have not been beared out. In my experience, it can happen to anybody. I certainly think the proliferation of access has made in general the prevalence go up, starting with lottery and casinos and then the internet, access to gambling has become much more prevalent and so there has been an increase in gambling and problem gambling. The best model will tell us whatever the genetic contributions are and whatever the environmental contributions are that lead to problem gambling.
On treating a gambling disorder
There are many options available for treatment and lots of them work. A major issue is that most problem gamblers don’t seek treatment. Ten percent or less of problem gamblers seek treatment. That gets even worse there’s the dropout rate. There’s a wide range of what’s reported but it can be as high as 50 percent. People should reach out to any local resource, such as 1-800-Gambler or a community mental health service.
On the ethics of changing people’s behavior
For behavioral psychology in general this is a longstanding issue. For someone who is seeking treatment, changing their behavior is ideally what they’re looking for. The goals of the treatment will be laid out early on. By people seeking treatment and staying in treatment or even getting exposure to some psycho-educational material or self-help material, we’re behaving ethically by putting these things out there, and people will hopefully respond to all that information, and possibly seek help. 
"Health 411," hosted by Dr. Jonathan Karp of Rider's Department of Biology, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Health Sciences, airs every Sunday at 11 a.m. on 107.7 The Bronc. All episodes are also available as podcasts.