Home Mental Health & Well-Being It Is a Safe Bet That Gambling Addiction Is in Our Genes – But How Do We Know If We Are More Susceptible?

It Is a Safe Bet That Gambling Addiction Is in Our Genes – But How Do We Know If We Are More Susceptible?

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Studies have shown that our genes may be up to 70% responsible for  gambling behaviour. Now a new genetic test can identify who may be most predisposed to becoming hooked on gambling.

Around 90% of Brits have had a flutter at least once, whether a fiver on the Grand National or a pound on a fruit machine. However, for some people, placing a bet gradually becomes more than an occasional thrill and, instead, a behavioural change that progresses to addiction.

Around 2% of people cannot stop gambling activities that harm themselves, their social network or society. ‘Gambling Disorder’ is a behavioural addiction with potentially severe consequences. It’s now believed that up to 70% of our gambling behaviour could be down to our genetic makeup rather than responding to the moment’s thrill.

A leading testing expert, Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), clinical lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: “Recent changes to gaming laws will help people who lose a lot of money quickly, but far more work needs to be done to address this problem.”

It is important to examine this from a legal perspective and understand the factors that lead people to develop gambling disorders. This includes examining patterns in our genes that demonstrate interesting links to our behaviours, traits and even susceptibilities.

Gambling disorder occurs when there is a repeated pattern of gambling behaviour, despite negative consequences, that takes precedence over other daily activities. This can lead to a feeling of loss of control.

Gambling disorder primarily appears to be an impulse control disorder, with symptoms similar to substance abuse problems. Studies indicate a likely strong genetic influence on the development of gambling behaviours.

Indeed, a fascinating study of identical and non-identical twins found that genetic factors were responsible for approximately 70% of the difference in their gambling behaviour. In other words, it explained why some of us can take the occasional flutter and then forget about it, while others become compulsive gamblers. The study found that their genes likely influenced 85% of adult males’ gambling behaviour.

Easily available genetic tests, such as London Medical Laboratory’s new DNA Genotype profile test, now provide fascinating information about our ancestry and the likely impact of certain medications on us, revealing a potential likelihood of gambling disorder.

They work by identifying differences in those genes responsible for parts of our actions and behaviour. For example, how well do our bodies process serotonin? Serotonin in your brain regulates your mood. It’s sometimes called your body’s natural “feel good” chemical. When serotonin is at normal levels, you feel better focused, more stable and happier.

However, variations in one gene, HTR2A, are associated with susceptibility to mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They also affect neuronal activity, perception, cognition and mood. These are all likely to impact gambling disorder behaviour, either directly or indirectly.

One other specific gene is also now believed to play an important part in gambling disorder: CNR1. A 2018 study asked: “Are we placing a bet by ourselves, or has our DNA already made the decision for us?”. It looked at a variant in our CNR1 gene called “rs1049353” and found it impacted addictive behaviour and reward processing.

The paper found people with this variant placed significantly larger bets than those without it. Its findings suggest that, to some extent, our high-level decision-making, even placing a bet, could be influenced by a single genetic variation. 

Anyone who discovers their genotype indicates that they may have inherited a predisposition for gambling can take active steps to help reduce risk. Understanding our susceptibility to gambling can help us take preventive action.

For example, easy access to gambling activities tends to increase its prevalence, so it is best to avoid those places where gambling is easier and those websites and apps where placing a bet could become a problem. It’s also important to proactively pursue other activities, such as rekindling old hobbies. GambleAware provides further helpful information and has a 24–7 helpline.

Genetics does not determine a predisposition to gambling. Environmental factors, such as family, social and cultural influences, and psychosocial factors, including personality traits, cognition and emotional state, also play key roles. These factors interact with genetics to shape an individual’s gambling behaviour. Genetics is only one piece of the puzzle, yet an important one.

London Medical Laboratory’s new DNA Genotype Profile Test is a simple, at-home saliva test kit. This once-in-a-lifetime test gives over 300 reports: providing insights into nutrition, traits (such as potential addictions or gambling), fitness and health from our genetic blueprint. A single saliva sample lets us know more about ourselves to make better decisions for a healthier future.

The saliva test can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores.

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