Gambling problems are more common than drinking problems, according to first-of-its-kind study

March 24, 2011, University at Buffalo

After age 21, problem gambling is considerably more common among U.S. adults than alcohol dependence, even though alcohol dependence has received much more attention, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions.

In results published this month in the Journal of Gambling Studies, John W. Welte, principal investigator on the study and a national expert on alcohol and gambling pathology, concluded that there is a distinct inconsistency between his research and much of the other research literature. Other research supports the proposition that problem gambling is more common among than among adults. Problem gambling has often been described as rare. Even the National Council on Problem Gambling describes it as "rare but treatable."

Welte and colleagues conducted, then combined, results from two national surveys of gambling and alcohol -- one of youth ages 14-21 and the second of adults 18 and older -- to identify patterns of U.S. gambling and alcohol use across the lifespan. They found that gambling, frequent gambling and problem gambling increases in frequency during the teen years, reaches its highest level in the 20s and 30s and then fall off among those over 70.

"No comparable analysis has been done previously and therefore none is available for a direct comparison of these results," Welte says. "But, given what we found about the persistence of frequent and problem gambling through adulthood, increased prevention and intervention efforts are warranted."

Other results detailed in the article demonstrate that frequent gambling is twice as great among men (28 percent) as among women (13 percent). Men reach their highest rates of both any gambling and frequent gambling in the late teens, while females take longer to reach their highest rates.

The odds of any gambling in the past year are significantly higher for whites than for blacks or Asians, although the odds of frequent gambling are higher for blacks and Native Americans, the study found.

It is also notable that frequent and become more common as socioeconomic status (SES) gets lower; gambling involvement tends to decline as SES rises. Welte speculated as early as 2004 that lower SES Americans may pursue gambling as a way to make money, leading to more difficulties than if their motivation were strictly recreational.

Welte's first telephone survey of adult gambling was conducted in 1999-2000 with 2,631 adults from 4,036 households nationwide. The second survey of youth gambling in 2005-2007 included 2,274 youth -- with parental permission -- from 4,467 households. Both surveys were conducted with residents drawn from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Questions asked of those who agreed to participate ranged from frequency of drinking, quantity and type of alcoholic beverage to frequency of past-year gambling and type of , such as raffles, cards, casinos, sports betting, horse or dog track, lottery involvement and games of skill.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researcher unlocking relationship between early math ability, fingers

March 23, 2018
Ask toddlers how old they are, and they are likely to hold up the corresponding number of fingers and say, "this many."

Analyzing past failures may boost future performance by reducing stress

March 23, 2018
Insights from past failures can help boost performance on a new task—and a new study is the first to explain why. US researchers report that writing critically about past setbacks leads to lower levels of the "stress" hormone, ...

How reciprocity can magnify inequality

March 22, 2018
People tend to reciprocate others' actions in ways that increase disparities in wealth, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Building tolerance to anxiety is key to OCD symptom relief

March 22, 2018
Excessive hand washing, out of a fear of contamination or germs, is one of the most common and best-known examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Though OCD can't be "cured," symptoms can be significantly reduced ...

Stopping exercise can increase symptoms of depression

March 22, 2018
Stopping exercise can result in increased depressive symptoms, according to new mental health research from the University of Adelaide.

Antioxidants and amino acids could play role in the treatment of psychosis

March 22, 2018
A scientific paper has revealed that some nutrients found in food may help reduce the symptoms of psychotic illness, when used in the early stages of treatment.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.