Problematic internet use in gamblers: impact on clinical and cognitive measures

03 Oct 2017

Objective: Gambling is a commonplace phenomenon, existing along a continuum from occasional gambling, to functionally impairing gambling disorder. The Internet may act as a conduit for some gambling behaviors. The impact of problematic Internet use on clinical and cognitive features relevant to gambling has received very little research attention. Method: 206 adults aged 18-30 years, who gamble at least 5 times per year, were recruited from the general community, and undertook detailed clinical and cognitive assessments. Problematic internet use was defined using total score of five or more on Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire (YDQ), which is derived from diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder and substance use disorders. Demographic, clinical, and cognitive characteristics were compared between gamblers with versus without problematic Internet use. Linear regression was used to evaluate the relative contribution of addictive-related, impulsive-related, and compulsive-related measures in predicting YDQ total scores in gamblers. Results: Compared to the reference gambler group, gamblers with problematic internet use (18% of the sample, defined using a cut-off of five or more on the YDQ) reported lower quality of life, lower self-esteem; elevated rates of intermittent explosive disorder, gambling disorder symptoms, ADHD symptoms, antisocial personality disorder, and PTSD; and relative deficits in decision-making and spatial working memory. In linear regression, the extent of problematic internet use in gamblers was most strongly and significantly associated with higher gambling disorder symptoms, and higher ADHD symptoms. Conclusions: These results indicate that problematic Internet use in gamblers is associated with worse quality of life, more problem/pathological gambling symptoms, more psychiatric morbidities, and select cognitive impairment. Refinement of definition of problematic Internet use, and exploration of its clinical and cognitive associations, is likely to be highly relevant to the treatment of gambling.