Gambling addiction may increase the risk of long-term sick leave

November 26, 2023

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Gambling addiction may increase the risk of long-term sick leave

Gambling addiction can increase the risk of long-term sick leave for several years, according to a new study by Swedish researchers published in Psychological Medicine. The team behind the study point to the need to detect people with gambling addiction in time to avoid financial and health problems.  

Gambling addiction is a psychiatric condition characterized by prolonged and problematic gambling that leads to negative financial, health and social consequences. The condition has been described as a "hidden addiction" that can go on without the knowledge of the environment.  

The research team, with expertise in addiction, gambling, epidemiology, and sickness absence, used several linked national registers to study 2,830 working-age individuals between 19 and 62 who had been diagnosed with gambling addiction and examined their absence from work because of illness over a period of six years. They then compared these data to an equivalent group of 2,830 people without a gambling addiction diagnosis.  

What the researchers say: "Thanks to the extensive data in the different registers, we were also able to control for a range of factors that are linked to both gambling addiction and sickness absence, including physical and mental health, gender, age, length of education, and how densely populated area the individual lives in," says the study's lead author.

The researchers found that people with gambling addiction had an 89% higher risk of being on long-term sick leave, which means more than 90 days per year during the year they were diagnosed.  

"This is particularly worrying as this group often has a history of mental health problems and the ability to work is important for mental and financial recovery," explained the researchers.

The study also shows that the risk is unevenly distributed. Being female, having less education and living in less densely populated areas were linked to a higher risk of long-term sick leave.  

According to the researchers, the results are important because there is a lack of knowledge about the consequences of gambling addiction over time and how they can affect the individual in terms of health and workability, and ultimately financial stability and participation in society through work.  

“The study shows that we need to detect gambling problems at an earlier stage in health care and at workplaces, and increase access to help for affected people so that they can break negative trajectories earlier. Gambling addiction risks going unnoticed, and the problems can become extensive before they are diagnosed in health care, something that this study shows," they told us.  

So, what? As I have said before all addiction is social in origin—the stress caused by the disconnect between our design specs and the way we currently live and work. What we become addicted to as a way of trying to cope with the stressors upon us will depend on our experience, or inherited genetic expression and the social context we live in.

We cannot “cure” large-scale addiction without a fundamental change in our society.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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