Gambling Among Adolescents and Young Adults Associated with Psychiatric Problems

Adolescents and young adults who gamble are more likely to have substance use disorders and psychiatric problems, according to an article in the November, 2004 issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry.

Gambling is a widespread behavior, with approximately 68 percent of the U.S. adult population gambling legally in the past year, alongside an estimate fifty to 90 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 who have reported gambling illegally. Nine million adults are classified as problem gamblers, while another three million are pathological gamblers.

According to the article, pathological gambling in adults is associated with various health and social problems, including substance use problems, depression, psychiatric treatment, poor health, arrest, and incarceration. Even more troubling is the fact that the same problems associated with adult gambling, including substance use and depression, are found in adolescents who gamble heavily.

Wendy J. Lynch, Ph.D., of Yale University School of Medicine, and colleagues investigated psychosocial factors that may be associated with gambling in adolescents (aged 16 to 17 years) and young adults (aged 18 to 29 years) who gambled before age 18 (early-onset) or after age 18 (adult-onset).

The researchers found that adolescent gamblers were more likely than adolescent non-gamblers to report depression, alcohol abuse, and drug dependence. In addition, early-onset adult gamblers reported higher rates of drug use than non-gamblers. Lynch and her colleagues concluded that "adolescent-onset gambling is associated with more severe psychiatric problems, particularly substance use disorders, in adolescents and young adults."

The researchers also found that adolescent gamblers were more likely to gamble for social reasons, which have also been found to motivate substance use behaviors in adolescents. Since money may not represent a major motivating factor for adolescent gambling, increasing the availability and appeal of non-gambling social activities may help adolescents redirect their attentions to more constructive activities, leading to improved mental health of Americans in the long run.

Further reading:

Cunningham-Williams RM, Cottler LB. The epidemiology of pathological gambling. Semin Clin Neuropsychiatry. 2001;6:155-166.

Shaffer HJ, Korn DA. Gambling and related mental disorders: a public health analysis. Annu Rev Public Health. 2002;23:171-212.

Shaffer HJ, Hall MN. Estimating prevalence of adolescent gambling disorders: a quantitative synthesis and guide toward standard gambling nomenclature. J Gambl Stud. 1996;12:193-214.

Shaffer HJ, Hall MN, Vander Bilt J. Estimating the prevalence of disordered gambling behavior in the United States and Canada: a research synthesis. Am J Public Health. 1999;89:1369-1376.

Gupta R, Derevensky JL. Adolescents with gambling problems: from research to treatment. J Gambl Stud. 2000;16:315-342.

Stinchfield R, Cassuto N, Winter K, Latimer W. Prevalence of gambling among Minnesota public school students in 1992 and 1995. J Gambl Stud. 1997;13:25-48.

Wynne H, Smith G, Jacobs DF. Adolescent Gambling and Problem Gambling in Alberta. Edmonton, Alberta: Alberta Drug

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