The report is believed to be the first to compare adolescent, early-onset adult, and adult-onset gamblers in terms of psychiatric health and gambling attitudes and behaviors.
According to the researchers, about 68 percent of the U.S. adult population gambled legally in the past year, and, although most adults gamble responsibly, about nine million are classified as problem gamblers and another three million as pathological gamblers. Studies have found that 50 percent to 90 percent of youths aged 12 to 17-years-old reported gambling within the past year, although gambling is largely illegal among adolescents. Pathological adult gambling is associated with substance use problems, depression, psychiatric treatment, poor health, arrest and incarceration, the researchers said. The same problems are found in adolescents who gamble heavily, they said.
"These findings highlight the need to examine the impact of gambling on younger age groups, particularly as the availability and social acceptance of legalized gambling increases," said Wendy Lynch, associate research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry and first author of the study.
The study included 235 adolescents who gambled in the past year, 151 adult gamblers who began gambling as adolescents and gambled in the past year, and 204 gamblers who did not begin gambling until they were adults. The data was compared with 299 adolescents and 187 adults who are not gamblers.
Adolescent and young gamblers were more likely than non-gambling peers to report alcohol use and abuse and drug use and abuse. Early-onset adult gamblers had higher rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse than their non-gambling peers. Only elevated rates of alcohol use were observed in adult-onset gamblers when compared to adult nongamblers.
Citation: The Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 61: pp 1116-1122 (November 2004)