Gay men likelier to gamble addict­ively, study suggests
Dec 01,2006 00:00 by World Science

Gay and bi­sex­u­al men may be un­u­su­al­ly prone to com­pul­sive gam­bling, a small study has found, adding to grow­ing ev­i­dence link­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity to var­i­ous ad­dic­t­ions and men­tal ill­nesses.

The results re­quire con­fir­ma­tion by fu­ture stud­ies, re­search­ers say, but un­der­score con­cerns that gays and les­bi­ans might re­quire spe­cial at­ten­tion and care for a range of men­tal dis­or­ders. 

The find­ings could al­so fu­el a charged de­bate over whe­th­er these con­di­tions stem from ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity it­self, or rath­er from the stress of suf­fer­ing anti-gay dis­crim­i­na­tion. 

“Gay and bi­sex­u­al male path­o­log­i­cal gam­b­lers may re­quire more in­ten­sive or spe­cial­ized treat­ment” than oth­er ones, wrote the au­thors of the stu­dy, pub­lished in the No­v­em­ber-De­c­em­ber is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Com­p­re­hen­sive Psy­chi­a­try.

Such ther­a­pies may al­so “need to ad­dress a wide range of im­pul­sive be­ha­v­iors,” added the re­search­ers, Jon Grant of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­ne­so­ta Med­i­cal School in Min­ne­ap­o­lis, Minn., and Marc Po­ten­za of Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Med­i­cal School in New Hav­en, Conn.

Com­pul­sive gam­b­ling—also called path­o­log­i­cal or ad­dic­t­ive gam­b­ling—is ha­bi­t­u­al, ex­ces­sive bet­ting with se­vere per­son­al, so­cial or le­gal con­se­quenc­es. A brain dis­ease, it ap­pears si­m­i­lar to dis­or­ders such as al­co­hol­ism and drug ad­dic­tion, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health. 

These ill­nesses tend to in­volve prob­lems in a brain re­gion tied to be­hav­iors such as eat­ing and sex, some­times called the “plea­sure cen­ter,” and strongly as­so­ci­at­ed with a chem­i­cal mes­sen­ger called dopamine. Path­o­log­i­cal gam­blers, pre­dom­i­nantly men, of­ten say they’re look­ing for “ac­tion” or ex­cite­ment in the ac­t­i­vi­ty.

Grant and Potenza stud­ied 105 men who had sought treat­ment for path­o­log­ical gam­bling and had re­sponded to ads or re­fer­rals to join the re­search. Twen­ty-two of these men—21 per­cent—i­den­ti­fied them­selves as gay or bi­sex­u­al, they found. That’s four to sev­en times high­er than the per­cent­age that these groups re­pre­sent of the whole pop­u­la­tion, by most mid­dling es­ti­mates.

Gays and bi­sex­u­als al­so tended to be am­ong the most ad­dict­ed gam­b­lers, the re­search­ers re­port­ed; these pa­tients were al­so like­li­er to suf­fer ad­di­tion­al impulse-control or sub­stance-a­buse con­di­tions, and to be sin­gle. The group con­sis­ted of 15 gays and se­v­en bi­sex­uals.

Lim­i­ta­tions of the stu­dy, the sci­en­tists wrote, were its small size and its in­clu­sion of on­ly treat­ment-seeking men, who might be un­rep­re­sent­a­tive of the wid­er pop­u­la­tion.

The results fit with a trend, though. 

There’s a “grow­ing con­cern that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ly ac­tive in­di­vid­u­als are at in­creased risk for psy­chi­at­ric mor­bid­i­ty,” or ill­ness, wrote an­oth­er group of sci­en­t­ists in the June 2001 is­sue of the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health. “Sev­eral sur­veys have found el­e­vat­ed rates of some anx­i­e­ty dis­or­ders, mood dis­or­ders, and sub­stance use dis­or­ders among ho­mo­sex­u­als.”

The rea­sons are un­clear, wrote the au­thors, with Har­vard Med­i­cal School in Bos­ton and oth­er in­sti­tu­tions. One pos­si­bil­i­ty, they added, is that gays and les­bians are more fre­quent vic­tims of early-life abuse.

A sec­ond, they con­tin­ued, is that “les­bians and gay men simp­ly lead risk­i­er lives.” 

Yet anoth­er ex­pla­na­tion, for which they cit­ed sub­s­tan­tial­ly more ev­i­dence, was that “stig­ma­ti­za­tion and ex­po­sure to dis­crim­i­na­tory be­hav­ior lead to higher rates of men­tal dis­or­ders. This hy­poth­e­sis is con­sist­ent with the find­ing that les­bians and gay men ex­pe­ri­ence dis­crim­i­na­tion in mul­ti­ple do­mains of life,” which in turn is tied to psy­cho­log­ical dis­tress. Oth­er dis­ad­van­taged groups al­so face high­er-than-av­er­age risk for psy­cho­log­ical prob­lems, they wrote.

The alternative ex­pla­na­tions are linked to deep­ly, even bit­ter­ly op­posed po­l­i­ti­cal views. The idea that un­healthy risk-taking is in­her­ent in ho­mo­sex­u­al­i­ty tends to sat­is­fy gay-rights op­po­nents, most of whom see same-sex ori­en­ta­tion as ab­nor­mal. The stig­ma­ti­za­tion hyp­o­the­sis pleases gay-rights sup­port­ers, who view dis­crim­i­na­tion, not ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, as the prob­lem.

The ques­tion of what ex­plains the ho­mo­sex­ua­li­ty-ad­dic­tion sta­t­is­tics is “the big one,” wrote Grant in an e­mail. “I don’t think there’s ei­ther an easy an­swer or, based on our lim­it­ed sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge cur­rent­ly, an an­swer that does­n’t have some sort of so­ci­o­po­li­ti­cal over­tones. I think of this re­search as a very small piece of the big­ger puz­zle.”