Highly impulsive behavior leads to problem gambling in boys

By Piriya Mahendra, medwireNews Reporter

Boys who show a pattern of impulsivity from their early school years are likely to end up with a gambling problem in their late adolescence, research suggests.

Boys with a developmental pattern of high impulsivity - defined as a tendency to make quick decisions without carefully considering the potential negative consequences - at the age of 11-15 years had doubled odds for at-risk gambling and a tripled risk for problem gambling at the age of 17-20 years.

The study, which appears in Addiction, is the first to make a link between a developmental pattern of impulsivity and late-adolescent problem gambling, say the authors, who were led by Silvia Martins (Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, New York, USA).

"From our findings we see that teaching impulse control early in elementary school may have a long term benefit in decreasing the likelihood of youth following an elevated trajectory of impulsivity," she remarked in a press statement.

Martins and team annually followed up 310 boys who were predominantly African-American (87%) and of low socioeconomic status (defined as receiving free or discounted lunch; 70%) from first-grade to late adolescence (11-20 years) in an urban community in Baltimore, Maryland.

The researchers obtained ratings of classroom behavior from the boys' teachers, based on a Teacher Report of Classroom Behavior Checklist, which includes items such as "waits for turn," "interrupts," and "blurts out answers," to measure impulsivity between the ages of 11 and 15 years.

Results from a general growth mixture model showed two trajectories in impulsivity: a high-impulsivity trajectory, which was shown by 41% of the cohort, and a low-impulsivity trajectory, shown by 59% of the cohort.

Overall, two-thirds of the boys reported engaging in some gambling at the age of 17, 19, and 20 years, while 20% met the criteria for at-risk gambling and 9% were problem gamblers according to the South Oaks Gambling Screen-Revised for Adolescents test.

"Our findings reveal that there is a considerable link between youth impulsivity in the younger years and gambling issues as older teens," said Martins. "This has important implications and provides clear research support for targeting impulsivity to prevent youth problem gambling."

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