Young gamblers more likely to have use disorders and psychiatric problems

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

According to the article, approximately 68 percent of the U.S. adult population gambled legally in the past year. Although most adults gamble responsibly, about 9 million are classified as problem gamblers and another 3 million as pathological gamblers. Adult pathological gambling is associated with substance use problems, depression, psychiatric treatment, poor health, arrest and incarceration, the article states. Fifty percent to 90 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 years old reported gambling within the past year even though gambling is largely illegal among adolescents. The same problems associated with adult gambling are found in adolescents who gamble heavily, including substance use and depression.

Wendy J. Lynch, Ph.D., of Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., and colleagues investigated psychosocial factors 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 used data from adolescent past-year gamblers (who gambled in the past 12 months, n=235), early-onset adult past-year gamblers (n=151), and adult-onset past year gamblers (n=204). They also looked at data from adolescent (n=299) and adult (n=187) nongamblers.

The researchers found: “Adolescent gamblers were more likely than adolescent nongamblers to report alcohol and drug use and abuse/dependence and depression. Elevated rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse/dependence were observed in early-onset adult gamblers vs. adult nongamblers, and only elevated rates of alcohol use were observed in adult-onset gamblers vs. adult nongamblers.”

They also found that adolescent gamblers were more likely to report gambling for social reasons rather than to win money, and were less likely to have large wins or losses. Adolescent gamblers were also less likely than early-onset adult gamblers to gamble weekly or daily.

The researchers conclude that “Adolescent-onset gambling is associated with more severe psychiatric problems, particularly substance use disorders, in adolescents and young adults.”


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