Public Release: 

Pathological Gambling More Prevalent Among Youths Than Adults, Study Finds

American Psychological Association

May Be More Addictive Than Alcohol, Smoking And Drugs: Some Youth Gamble For Reasons Unrelated To Winning Money

SAN FRANCISCO -- Between five and eight percent of young Americans and Canadians have a serious gambling problem (compared with one to three percent of adults). That is according to research conducted over the last five years and presented at the 106th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, August 14 -18. The research also shows that adolescents may become more addicted to gambling than they are to alcohol, smoking and drugs and sometimes gamble for reasons other than winning money.

While the research shows that most youth gamble only occasionally, a minority of them starts gambling on a regular basis and then becomes pathologically involved. Boys get involved with gambling more than girls; older youths gamble more than younger ones; youths from ethnic minorities gamble more than Whites. Children can start gambling as early as grade school (11 years of age) and usually sustain their level of gambling over a number of years.

Antisocial behavior, being male and frequent alcohol use seemed to increase the likelihood of the frequency of gambling, according to the research. There also appears to be some evidence that prevention efforts used to prevent adolescent drug use can also be used to curb problem gambling behavior, said psychologist Randy Stinchfield, Ph.D., and colleagues of the University of Minnesota.

One of the largest studies to examine gambling rates among youths was a statewide survey of Minnesota public school students (6th, 9th and 12th graders), conducted by Dr. Stinchfield, one of the gambling researchers. The survey assessed how much these youths were at risk for developing alcohol, drug and/or gambling problems. The survey was given in 1992 to 122,700 students and then again to 75,900 students in 1995. The survey also examined if gambling was related to alcohol and drug use.

"One of the main findings from this study," said Dr. Stinchfield, "was that gambling frequency did not increase among most of those students during the three-year period. The rates of gambling and problem gambling did not change. The only changes that were measured were that gamblers' preferences shifted away from informal games to legalized games, especially for those reaching the legal age for gambling. And those that appeared to be over-involved in gambling did end up increasing their gambling over the time period."

"The majority of students gambled at least once during the past year (80 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls) and a minority of students gambled weekly or more during the past year (20 percent of boys and five percent of girls)," said Dr. Stinchfield. "Boys gambled three to four times more often than girls and older students gambled more often than younger students."

"This is useful information because these findings provide a reference point to help draw the line of what are normal and abnormal levels of gambling. We can then teach parents and teachers what levels of gambling frequency may be considered outside the range of common gambling behavior for youth. Then the information can be used to identify those youths at risk and help develop prevention efforts," said Dr. Stinchfield.

"With gambling becoming more accessible in U.S. society and having the first generation of youth be exposed to this widespread access, it will be important to be able to intervene in children's and adolescent's lives before the activity can develop into a problem behavior," said the authors.

Other experts who have studied gambling problems with youth have found similar problems along with some new problems. Psychologists Rina Gupta, Ph.D., and Jeffrey L. Derevensky, Ph.D., of McGill University examined 817 high school students in Montreal to examine how addicting gambling is, game preferences and reasons for gambling. Over 80 percent of the high school students gambled in the previous year and 35 percent gambled at least once a week. These students also reported that they gambled more often than they drank alcohol, smoked or consumed drugs.

Enjoyment and excitement were the most reported reasons for gambling by non-problem gamblers, said Drs. Gupta and Derevensky. "Pathological gamblers gambled for excitement too, but also to escape, to alleviate depression, to promote relaxation and to cope with loneliness. Interestingly, winning money was not a key motivation for the pathological gambler."

The pathological gamblers were more likely to have parents with gambling problems, to be engaging in illegal activities and to have more suicidal thoughts. The male high school students preferred gambling with sports lottery tickets and sports betting pools, whereas the female high school students preferred gambling with lottery tickets and bingo.

Presentation: "Gambling and Problem Gambling Among Youth" by Randy Stinchfield, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Rina Gupta, Ph.D., and Jeffrey L. Derevensky, Ph.D., McGill University, Durand Jacobs, Ph.D., Redland, CA, Session 5121, 1:00 PM, August 18, 1998, Moscone Center - South Building, Rooms 232/234.

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


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