Gambling is often glamorized in society. People who gamble are portrayed as wealthy, stylish, and powerful. In the movies and on television, gamblers are in the most luxurious casinos flanked by attractive fans. In most instances they are wearing fine suits and sipping expensive liquor. But in reality, the lives of people with problem gambling (PG) look very different. Individuals who are addicted to gambling face financial challenges as a result of their impulsive gambling and many times lose their careers, their homes, and even their families to gambling. Additionally, PG has been associated with high rates of mental health problems and other addictions, including nicotine. Some research has begun to emerge that suggests that nicotine dependence plays a role in the impulsive behavior of PG and can be detrimental to treatment outcome.
Brian L. Odlaug of the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark wanted to test this theory. He recently led a study that evaluated how nicotine dependence affected treatment outcome in a sample of 385 individuals seeking help for PG. The participants were assessed for gambling frequency and nicotine usage before treatment and again 6 months posttreatment. Odlaug found that in his study, the majority of participants were smokers (63.4%). At treatment onset, the smokers had more severe and frequent gambling behaviors and higher levels of psychological problems than the nonsmokers. “Daily tobacco use did not, however, significantly affect treatment completion or the number of days gambled at the 6-month post-treatment follow-up as we had hypothesized,” Odlaug said.
These findings demonstrate a relationship between the impulsive behaviors of PG and those of addiction, specifically with respect to nicotine addiction. Odlaug believes that even though the participants were volunteers, which might suggest that they were more motivated to complete treatment, the results still serve to debunk the theory that nicotine dependence can be detrimental to treatment outcome for PG. He thinks that future research that considers gambling urges and compulsions, rather than just gambling behaviors, could provide more information about the link between nicotine dependence, gambling, and long-term outcome.
Odlaug, B. L., Stinchfield, R., Golberstein, E., Grant, J. E. (2012). The relationship of tobacco use with gambling problem severity and gambling treatment outcome. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029812
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