Contrary to the established notion that pathological gambling is a chronic and unremitting condition, it seems that it is often transitory and affected individuals can recover without treatment, according to new findings published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“People used to think the same thing about alcohol,” Dr. Wendy Slutske, from the University of Missouri in Columbia, told Reuters Health. “But now I think that we are starting to have a more nuanced picture of what compulsive gambling is — for some people it is something chronic and recurrent, for others it tends to remit with time.”
As with many relatively rare psychiatric disorders, most research on pathological gambling has been based on patients undergoing psychological treatment. However, studies are starting to show that not all gamblers seek help, and that perhaps those that do not are actually the ones who are most likely to recover
The purpose of Slutske’s study was to document the rates of recovery, treatment-seeking, and natural recovery in approximately 200 individuals identified in two U.S. national surveys who had reported episodes of gambling addiction in their lifetime.
The researcher set up a “concrete” definition of recovery — one year without any sort of pathological gambling symptom. The findings showed that 36 to 39 percent of the patients recovered.
“It actually turned out that many of those who were symptom-free for one year were also symptom-free for 5 or more years,” said Slutske.
Compared to this high rate of recovery, only seven to twelve percent had ever sought treatment or attended meetings of Gamblers Anonymous, according the Slutske.
“That’s a much lower percentage than for other mental health disorders,” she noted. “It suggests that a lot of these individuals probably don’t need treatment, but at the same time it might well be that people who do need treatment are not getting it, for personal reasons or because of external barriers.”