New study reveals scale of problem gambling among homeless population

April 3, 2014, University of Cambridge
Credit: Gavin Mills/The Connection at St Martin's

Homeless people are ten times more likely to be problem gamblers than the UK population as a whole, researchers at Cambridge have found.

The study – one of the largest surveys of and homelessness ever undertaken in the UK – provides new insight into a rarely studied problem and suggests services should offer clients more support to identify and tackle .

Although homelessness and problem gambling are two public health concerns, they are rarely considered together. This new study – published in the Journal of Gambling Studies – interviewed 450 people at homeless hostels and shelters in the London Borough of Westminster.

According to lead author Steve Sharman from the Department of Psychology: "Many issues face the homeless population, including drug and alcohol use. In terms of addiction research, most focus has been on drugs, alcohol and smoking, but the gambling field is relatively small in comparison. And while it is possible to spot physiological indicators of drug and alcohol addiction, problem gambling is much harder to identify."

Finding out more about gambling addiction is important at a time when gambling opportunities are wider than ever. "Gambling has exploded in popularity over the past 20 years, partly due to changes in legislation but also because of new technology," said Sharman.

"Where previous generations were limited to betting shops and football pools, today there's everything from online slots to in-play betting. That means people can gamble 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the more people who gamble, the more people there will be who do so problematically."

Together with researchers at Kings College London, the National Problem Gambling Clinic, The Connection @ St Martins and other centres in Westminster, Sharman spoke to over 450 homeless people in London.

He assessed levels of problem gambling using a standard clinical diagnostic tool called the Problem Gambling Severity Index. He then compared the results with data from the British gambling Prevalence Survey.

Compared with the UK population as a whole, where problem gambling affects 0.7% of people, the level of problem gambling among was 11.6%. "We found that the rate of problem or pathological gambling is significantly higher in the homeless population than the general population," he said.

In identifying the significant scale of the problem, the study could pave the way to developing new services for the homeless.

"The results are useful because some homeless services don't ask about gambling in their initial assessments. By showing that this population is vulnerable to gambling addiction, the study should encourage homeless services to include questions about gambling in their assessments. If they can understand the full range of behavioural problems their clients face – not only substance abuse – then they will be able to provide more comprehensive services," said Sharman.

The next stage of the project will be to unpick the direction of the link between gambling and homelessness – whether gambling is a cause or consequence of homelessness – the links between gambling and alcohol and drug use, and look at so-called negative life events.

"By giving us an indication of life events that precede homelessness and came afterwards, we will get a better understanding of the causes, and whether people start gambling after becoming homeless or became homeless as a result of gambling," he said.

"Regardless of whether gambling is a cause or a consequence, recognising and addressing this problem will hopefully give affected individuals a better chance of getting off – and more importantly staying off – the streets."

Explore further: Fear of stigma stops people from seeking problem gambling help

More information: "Rates of Problematic Gambling in a British Homeless Sample: A Preliminary Study." Steve Sharman, Jenny Dreyer, Mike Aitken, Luke Clark, Henrietta Bowden-Jones. Journal of Gambling Studies. January 2014, link.springer.com/article/10.1 … 7/s10899-014-9444-7#

Related Stories

Fear of stigma stops people from seeking problem gambling help

November 18, 2013
While gambling is an accepted past-time in our community, having a problem with your gambling is not.  There is also significant public stigma connected to seeking help for gambling problems – so much so, that it may stop ...

Congressional subcommittee weighs online gambling

December 10, 2013
Organizations and advocates on all sides of the online gambling debate are cheering a Congressional hearing on the state of online gambling.

Scientists reduce behaviors associated with problem gambling in rats

October 29, 2013
With the help of a rat casino, University of British Columbia brain researchers have successfully reduced behaviours in rats that are commonly associated with compulsive gambling in humans.

People in poor neighborhoods are twice as likely to have gambling problems, study finds

January 6, 2014
The poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling, according to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

le_nic_73
not rated yet Apr 04, 2014
Nice to see someone is looking at the problem seriously,
Le Nic
Www.recoveringaddictblog.com

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.