Men and women show different traits in gambling addiction

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Susana Jimenez, lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the BSusana Jimenez, lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the Bellvitge Campus.


To date, there were almost no studies comparing the gender features of gambling disorder and its evolution into more severe clinical conditions. Now, two articles published in and Neuropsychiatry determine that men and women have different profiles in gambling-related disorders, and in their evolution towards more serious states.

The studies were led by Susana Jiménez, lecturer at the Department of Clinical Sciences ofthe UB and head of the Unit of Pathological Gambling at University Hospital of Bellvitge, and Roser Granero, lecturer at the UAB.
The highest levels of gambling addiction among women are associated with a number of traits, which differentiate them from male patients with also severe pathology: they play a lower variety of games; at an older age (although, also in women, an earlier age of starting to play is associated with more severity); they live alone (they are mostly women without a partner or coming out of a separation or divorce); they have a medium-low or low economic level; worse health and have experienced more stressful life events throughout their lives than men. Actually, it is often after some traumatic or stressful situation that they begin to play problematically. It is also seen that women with a severe gambling disorder present more cognitive bias, that is, more fantasies and irrational beliefs related to the game.

"Women with a more serious gambling disorder start playing later than men, but in many cases their evolution is more abrupt and the game becomes a maladjustment strategy to avoid negative emotional states or physical health problems" says Susana Jiménez, also member of Bellvitge Institute for Biomedical Research (IDIBELL) and the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition Networking Biomedical Research Centre (CIBERobn). Then, for women, the patterns of a problematic game are maintained through a process of negative reinforcement. Therefore, playing becomes the mechanism to avoid or mitigate emotions linked to sadness or feelings of loneliness or frustration with their lives.

Regarding men, the first motivations tend to be associated with impulsiveness, the excitement of the game, the chance to win rewards and the search for an immediate satisfaction. However, the evolution toward severe phases of addition involves a progression towards the need to escape negative emotions generated by the game (money loss, debt, conflict, lies to family members and close people, etc.). Therefore, the behaviour is maintained by a pattern of negative reinforcement in advanced phases of the disorder.

Another sensitive difference towards men, in severe cases of gambling in women, are the low levels of self-direction they have, that is, the difficulties in making decisions, planning, and persisting in the pursuit of life goals.