A strong link between gamblers and psychological disorders has been found in the preliminary results of a university study.

All of the gamblers who participated in the survey done by the University of Auckland showed at least one mental health issue. Depression was the disorder most commonly found.

Other psychological disorders included stress, anxiety or alcohol abuse.

PHD student and researcher Retina Rimal is working on a study on mental health issues in problem gamblers. Photo / Dean Purcell
PHD student and researcher Retina Rimal is working on a study on mental health issues in problem gamblers. Photo / Dean Purcell

Study author Retina Rimal recently presented the results at the International Gambling Conference held in Auckland last week.

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Rimal could not publish data yet as the results were preliminary and the sample size was small. She is looking for more participants.

Out of the 109 participants only 71 completed the full survey.

They were divided into two groups based on their score on a gambling scale. There were a total of 39 problem gamblers and 32 healthy controls.

Read more: PhD researcher calling for help from gamblers to study link to social anxiety

Study participants also completed a decision-making task. Those with problem gambling made worse decisions and the more disorders they had the more difficult it was for them to learn, Rimal said.

It is estimated 2.5 per cent of the New Zealand adult population are experiencing gambling-related harm. Photo / Christine Cornege
It is estimated 2.5 per cent of the New Zealand adult population are experiencing gambling-related harm. Photo / Christine Cornege

Rimal's second study, which will qualitatively look at professionals working in the addiction and gambling sector, is before the ethics committee at the moment. Both studies are expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Every day around $5.7million is gambled in New Zealand, the Problem Gambling Foundation (PGF) reported. That adds up to over $2billion per year.

One in five Kiwi adults gamble weekly with rates much higher among the poor, Maori and Pasifika communities.

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Lotto, raffles and Instant Kiwi were the most common forms of gambling and Lotto was played by over half of adult Kiwis at least once a year.

But it was non-casino pokies that were the most harmful form of gambling. Each pokie takes on average $47,500 per year, PGF reported. In wealthy areas there is around one pokie machine for every 465 people. In poorer areas there is one pokie machine for every 75 people.

PGF spokeswoman Andree Froude was not surprised by the study's results. Often people would use gambling as a way to escape personal issues like poverty, domestic violence or stress, she said.

Froude believed the study was useful from a treatment perspective to reinforce that each person needed to be looked at holistically and gambling problems can't be treated in isolation.

"Very often harmful gambling is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Gambling has no physical symptoms or signs. Someone using alcohol might appear to be intoxicated or a drug user has physical signs. But gambling is very, very easy to hide. It can be very destructive in someone's life before getting noticed. The fallout is huge."

Froude was keen to raise awareness about the harm pokies can do. She said people often used them as a form of escapism.

And for every person who has a gambling problem it directly affects the five to 10 closest people around them, PGF found.

Rimal's study is still looking to survey more participants. If you are interested, sign up here.