Nearly 1 in 20 people have a gambling problem, a survey of GP surgery patients in Bristol has found, with the risk greatest among young men, drug users and those with risky drinking behaviours.

Just under 1% of people said they had a severe gambling problem, 4.5% said the problem was low to moderately severe, and about 7% of people said that they had a family member with a gambling problem, according to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

More than 1,000 patients in 11 GP practices in Bristol completed the survey, which is the first to be done in a primary healthcare setting. The questionnaires were anonymous and asked questions on various aspects of mental health and other addictive behaviours besides gambling.

The study doesn't reflect the UK population as a whole, but it is a snapshot of the average level of problems in GP waiting rooms, who are likely to have slightly more mental and physical health problems than the whole UK population.

"General practices are the gateway into healthcare services, and gambling problems are a hidden concern and associated with very low rates of help seeking," study author Sean Cowlishaw of the University of Bristol told IBTimes UK. "We wanted to get the level of gambling problems in normal people in GP waiting rooms."

Young men, people who had risky drinking habits, used drugs or had depression were more likely to have a gambling problem. The study supports findings similar to previous research linking other addictive behaviours with gambling.

UK Gambling
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"In for people with severe gambling problem – dependence or addiction – there's very high rates of co-occurrence. In people with severe gambling problems, 40 to 50% have a substance abuse issue," Cowlishaw said.

The problem of multiple addictive behaviours is also the most prevalent in young men, who typically have higher rates of substance abuse.

In the UK there are far fewer measures in place to tackle gambling problems than other addictive behaviours, Cowlishaw said. The risk of young men developing gambling problems has been known for many years, but public health services aren't equipped to deal with this form of addiction, he said.

"What I'm surprised about is how little this knowledge has led to civil responses to gambling problems. The UK, in contrast with other countries, actually has very low levels of recognition by government and public health and medical services.

"My main surprise is that as a whole these results aren't causing more alarm."

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