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Compulsive gambling a genetic disorder?

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September 5, 1996
Wed posted at: 4:35 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Lisa Price

CHICAGO (CNN) -- A widely held theory that people may actually become addicted to gambling may now be more than speculation.

New scientific research released Tuesday at a meeting in Chicago reveals that compulsive gambling may in fact be genetically founded.

"Prior to today, we just go in and explain the signs, the symptoms, the progression," said Christopher Anderson of the Illinois Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling. "This just underscores what we've been saying with sound, scientific, tangible evidence. In other words -- here's a snapshot of this illness."

The research suggests compulsive gamblers share a gene that predisposes them to addictive behavior.

"Environmental factors are important, psychological factors are important. It's a complex disorder. But genes also play a role and this is one of the genes," said Dr. David Comings of the City of Hope National Medical Center.

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The gene is called the D-2 receptor. In some people, it can be stimulated by alcohol, drugs, sex, food -- or lots of gambling.

"I think recognizing that there is some kind of physical link to what happens to these individuals helps to put it into a framework. We're no longer talking about a moral judgment. We're no longer talking about right or wrong. We're talking legitimately about a treatable disorder," said Carol O'Hare, a recovering compulsive gambler.

The research is important because as the number of casinos and other betting venues soar, experts expect the number of problem gamblers to increase. According to the Council on Compulsive Gambling, 70 to 75 percent of those who play games of chance do so to a normal degree, 15 to 20 percent go beyond that and 5 to 8 percent become compulsive.

Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler, puts the numbers in human terms:

"I started gambling when I was seven or eight years old, and was shooting marbles in the street, pitching pennies, flipping baseball cards. At 14, it was racetracks, casinos and the stock market. At 17, I already stole to support my gambling addiction," Wexler said.

But even with the new study, researchers say identifying and treating the victims of this growing addition --where the drug of choice is money -- will be an awesome task.


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