Although family history of psychiatric disorders has often been considered potentially useful in understanding clinical presentations in patients, it is less clear what a positive family history means for people who gamble in the general community. We sought to understand the clinical and cognitive impact of having a first-degree relative with a substance use disorder (SUD) in a sample of non-treatment seeking young adults.
576 participants (aged 18–29 years) who gambled at least five times in the preceding year undertook clinical and neurocognitive evaluations. Those with a first-degree relative with a SUD were compared to those without on a number of demographic, clinical and cognitive measures. We used Partial Least Squares (PLS) regression to identify which variables (if any) were significantly associated with family history of SUDs, controlling for the influence of other variables on each other.
180 (31.3%) participants had a first-degree family member with a SUD. In terms of clinical variables, family history of SUD was significantly associated with higher rates of substance use (alcohol, nicotine), higher rates of problem gambling, and higher occurrence of mental health disorders. Family history of SUD was also associated with more set-shifting problems (plus higher rates of obsessive-compulsive tendencies), lower quality of decision-making, and more spatial working memory errors.
These results indicate that gamblers with a first-degree family member with a SUD may have a unique clinical and cognition presentation. Understanding these differences may be relevant to developing more individualized treatment approaches for disordered gambling. Compulsivity may be important as a proxy of vulnerability towards addiction.