Research projects

Risk and protective factors, depression and co-morbidities in problem gambling

Principal Researchers

Professor Shane Thomasa, Professor Alun Jackson a

Institution

a School of Social Work, University of Melbourne

b Faculty of Medicine, Monash University

Funding

$100,000

Award Type

beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year

2008

Project brief

This project aimed to identify risk and protective factors for problem gambling, with an emphasis on depression and other mental health co-morbidities.

A random digit-dialling survey methodology was employed to survey 2,012 Victorians about problem gambling and a range of related matters.  A number of tools were included in the survey questions.

Key findings

The data indicated that people with gambling problems also have a series of psychological and behavioural co-morbidities.  For example, approximately 35.7 per cent of people with problem gambling had a severe mental disorder (as defined by scores on the Kessler K10).  Compared with non-problem gamblers, this group has an 18.8 increased risk of having a severe mental disorder, as indicated by the Kessler K10 tool, and a 2.4 risk on the primary care depression screen.

Problem gambling also correlated with the increased risk of substance use.  For example, the increased risk of hazardous alcohol use according to the WHO-AUDIT was found to be 4.3 and people with problem gambling were at a 3.8-fold risk of daily smoking compared with non-problem gambling groups.

The relative risk of divorce was also increased, with people with problem gambling at a 5.6-fold risk of divorce compared with the non-problem gambling group.

Implications for policy, practice and further research

This study, along with reviews of other research, shows strong evidence that problem gamblers have high rates of co-morbidities, including depression and other mental health disorders.  These co-morbidities, which also include alcohol and drug use, must be considered in the design of effective, accessible interventions.  Much better understanding is needed of how the co-morbidities interact, and more prevalence studies could help achieve this. 

It is not known from the study findings whether problem gambling or the co-morbidities precede each other, nor whether they are causally linked – this would require longitudinal research.

It is evident that screening and treatment of problem gamblers for co-morbid mental health disorders is necessary.

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