Dr. Murray Feingold: Gambling is an issue for some

Dr. Murray Feingold

Do you have a gambling disorder? Are you a pathological gambler?

If the answer is yes, you are not alone. It has been estimated that 1 percent of people in the United States are pathological gamblers. That's a lot of people.

A screening guide used to determine if a person is a pathological gambler asks three questions:

1. During the past year, have you become restless, irritable or anxious when trying to stop or cut down on gambling?

2. Have you experienced financial difficulties as a result of your gambling?

3. Have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gamble?

There has been a significant increase in the number of people afflicted with a gambling disorder.

An important reason for this increase is the burgeoning availability of gambling opportunities, with the Internet leading the way. If they so desire, people can gamble 24 hours a day online.

There is also an increase in the number of gambling casinos that are available to those who want to gamble. At one time a person would have to travel to Las Vegas or Reno to gamble. Today, a casino may be available just miles away from a person's home.

Unfortunately, compared to many other disorders, there has been relatively little research to determine the etiology and treatment of gambling. However, there are emerging data concerning pathological gamblers.

Studies have shown that people with a gambling disorder frequently have other conditions. For example, a pathological gambler has a 4 to 6 times increased risk of having alcohol or drug abuse problems, or, a mood disorder such as depression.

Genetic and environmental factors also play a role in the causation of gambling problems.

Effective treatment may be elusive. Psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral treatment has been shown to be about 60 percent more effective than no treatment at all.

Overall, drug therapy has not been particularly effective.

For some, Gamblers Anonymous has been helpful.

As the number of people affected with a gambling disorder increases, the amount of research dedicated to finding the cause and effective treatment of this condition must also increase.

It is a condition that not only affects an individual, but it can also destroy a family.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.