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The matter of gambling addiction in the LGBTQ community

Here's what you need to know.

By Will Stroude

That about 1% of the population worldwide is prone to problem gambling is a reasonably established figure. Research shows that this does not run uniformly across the population and certain demographics are more susceptible than others.

One such sector is the LGBTQ people, and this is not so surprising when you realise that they face considerably more mental stress than others. They are constantly subject to discrimination, harassment, and hate crimes. The professionals engaged in the treatment of problem gambling need to pay special attention to their patients from the LGBTQ community.

Before we discuss the reasons for the high incidence of problem gambling among the LGBTQ community, and the treatment options available, it is essential to recap what is gambling addiction. Problem gamblers cannot stop their betting activities even after realising that it is harming their finances, their work, their family and social life and even their mental health. It often leads to criminal behaviour like stealing money to gamble and in the worst cases, financial problems can sometimes lead to suicide.

The correlation between LGBTQ people and problem gambling

There is a scarcity of research that could establish the direct causes of the higher incidence of gambling addiction among the LGBTQIA+ community. However, a few credible studies do indicate that there is a correlation between problem gambling and those who identify as gay, bisexual and transgender.

The 2006 Study by Grant and Potenza

The objective of this American study was to examine the sexual orientation and clinical correlates of men with pathological gambling, which is a medical term for gambling addiction. An estimated 3% of men are gay and bisexual. Grant and Potenza considered a sample of 105 men seeking treatment for problem gambling.

On the basis of self-identification, 15 men were homosexual and 7 were bisexual, leading to a total of 22, which works out to 21%. The finding was that the incidence of problem gambling is seven times greater in gay and bisexual males as compared to the normal population.

The study suggested that lower self-esteem among gay males could be a reason for higher gambling addiction but proposed that more work was needed to establish this. Grant and Potenza were clear that their findings had treatment implications. Gay and bisexual male pathologic gamblers would require more intensive or specialized treatment services as compared with heterosexual gamblers.

2015 Australian Study

The objective of this study conducted in New South Wales was to understand the other problems afflicting members of the LGBT community and it used a mixed gender sample of 69 participants.

The research revealed that 20.2% of people met DSM V criteria for gambling disorder. Some other information was obtained from the participants.

  • The gambling games preferred were pub slot machines (58%) and scratch-offs (43%)
  • The participants spent from $1000 to $3000 per month on gambling
  • The reasons for gambling were given as “because it is fun” and “because I like the feeling”

Reasons for higher incidence of gambling addiction in the LGBTQ community

There is often a misconception that gambling addiction among the LGBTQ community is a ‘result’ of their sexual preference. Nothing can be further from the truth, according to scientific research. Two of the more probable reasons are discussed below.

Mental stress

Members of the LGBTQ community can often find themselves in stressful situations when they are not accepted by society. In fact, they are routinely discriminated against. Gambling can become a source of relief and before they know it they are addicted.

Financial problems

There are many reasons for people in this group landing in financial trouble. Young LGBTQ are sometimes forced to leave homes to avoid a hateful environment and do not have any means to support themselves. Meanwhile, transgender people attempting to access appropriate healthcare might face high financial costs.

Unfortunately, gambling gives them the false hope of getting rich quickly and they sink deep into the quicksand of this addiction.

Treatment options for LGBTQ gambling addicts

It’s important to advocate responsible gambling guidelines among the LGBTQ community and offer adequate help to individuals who may already have to deal with many mental and emotional issues.

Professionals engaged in the treatment of gambling addiction are now beginning to discreetly ask the patients if they belong to the LGBTQ community so that they can receive more sensitive and specialised counselling. Some of these problem gamblers may already be in counselling for other issues and it is essential to ensure that there is no clash in the treatment and there is no additional pressure imposed on the patient.

It has also been advocated counsellors who would be mentoring patients with different sexual preferences need special training so that they can attend to the matter with the delicateness and care needed.

As LGBTQ people become more and more comfortable with themself, the need to gamble compulsively will be eliminated. It is a common practice in problem gambling treatment to use group therapy methods. Talking to other similarly affected persons helps the treatment progress faster. In the case of LGBTQ problem gamblers, this phase would be deferred till the person can confidently open up before a group about his or her sexual preference. The counsellor starts with one on one sessions and moves to group therapy at the right time.

There is some way to go

There are several organisations like the LGBT Foundation that are helping members of this community find a place in society. However, when gambling addiction is an added problem, there are not so many specialised avenues of help as of now. The medical profession is acutely aware of the issue on hand and rapid progress is being made in the treatment of problem gambling among the LGBTQIA+.