According to a new Canadian study, breaking the habit of smoking while gambling could help those with gambling problems rein in that problem, too.
The research, undertaken by a team primarily from the universities of Calgary and Lethbridge, aimed to “identify factors that might facilitate remission from problem gambling.”
The results could help inform public messaging and treatment programs aimed at reducing the short-term harm of problem gambling (shortened to “PG” by the researchers).
In particular, the study found that players experiencing gambling problems with electronic gaming machines (EGMs) may find it helpful to step away from tobacco.
For EGM players, cessation of this specific type of gambling activity may be particularly helpful. Programs which use a harm reduction approach may encourage people who gamble on EGMs to replace this activity with a less problematic form of gambling.
Further, clinicians should screen for stimulant use while gambling (including tobacco) and encourage setting an initial goal of not using these substances while gambling, as this may also reduce the likelihood of gambling-associated problems.
The latter could also boost arguments for banning smoking in casinos. That’s an ongoing topic of discussion in several states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Game Type, Tobacco Use Could Impact Recovery
Problem gambling, the study explained, continues to challenge the clinicians working to provide relief to those experiencing it.
While some people recover naturally without formal treatment, for others, problem gambling can take a tighter hold—mainly when multiple addictions are at play.
Given this observation, researchers acknowledged the possibility those with fewer risk factors who experience problem gambling find it easier to remit. Conversely, people with more or higher risk factors may take longer to reach remission or need formal help to recover.
However, as yet, no studies have considered if disengaging from certain gambling types could predict the success of problem gambling recovery.
For that reason, with this study, researchers aimed to identify factors that might facilitate remission.
For targeted prevention and treatment programs to work, they argued, the focus must be on “modifiable risk factors that decrease risk of PG.”
As noted, results showed the strongest predictors for problem gambling remission correlated to specific gambling types. In particular, the study indicated that stopping EGM play may contribute to remission from problem gambling. These outcomes support previous findings that have shown a strong association between EGMs and gambling addiction.
Researchers also found the likelihood of recovery increased as the perception of gambling as a leisure activity declined, and people turned to new hobbies.
But, particularly interesting was the evidence that people who smoke while gambling were less likely to reach remission. Conversely, those who stopped or reduced tobacco use while gambling were more likely to recover, the study said.
These results point to the special role that certain stimulants may play in maintaining PG. These substances tend to increase focus and alertness as well as reduce appetite, which may contribute to people losing track of time while gambling, with cessation only happening when funds are depleted.
Longer-Term Study Required
Strangely, despite a long association between online gambling and problem gambling, the study indicates online play might not be associated long-term with problem gambling (as a precursor or predictor of remission). However, people struggling with gambling may be more likely to do so online to “fulfill immediate urges.”
Somewhat surprisingly, remission from most other mental health conditions did not predict problem gambling remission—the lone exception being remission from panic disorder. Researchers found that several indicators expected to predict remission failed to do so after the one-year follow-up.
That doesn’t mean that those correlations don’t exist, however. The study suggested that an extended follow-up period for future research could uncover more predictive power.
These latter variables may take longer to exert their effect on PG remission (i.e., more than one year) and may only apply to specific subtypes of people with PG (e.g., remission from depressive disorders may only predict remission from PG among emotionally vulnerable people who gamble). Nonetheless, easily targetable predictors of remission have been identified.
[Editor’s Note: Bonus came across the Predictors of Problem Gambling Remission in Adults: A Canadian Longitudinal Study abstract online and contacted the authors for a copy. This story references an unedited version provided by the lead author, Youssef Allami, University of Calgary.]