Scientific evidence has shown alcohol and gambling have a relationship that goes beyond Miller High Life’s sponsorship of the World Series of Poker.
Yale researchers found those who begin gambling at an early age are more likely than both non-gamblers and adult-onset gamblers to engage in alcohol and drug use. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, according to the researchers’ report published in the November Archives of General Psychiatry.
“The study we did looked at the psychiatric correlates of gambling,” said Wendy Lynch, head researcher for the Women and Addictive Disorders Research Core at Yale. “We found that adolescent gamblers were more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol and with depression.”
Over the past year, Yale researchers analyzed data from the National Opinion Research Center’s “Gambling Impact and Behavior Study” in order to identify the overall differences in gambling-related behaviors and attitudes in adolescent and adult gamblers.
Lynch said gambling adolescents were more likely to be depressed than adult gamblers and their non-gambling counterparts.
Similarly, the researchers found more prevalent substance abuse and depression in adults who started gambling before the age of 18 than those who started gambling as adults. This finding indicates that problems associated with adolescent gambling often persist into adulthood, Lynch said.
However, the reason for the direct correlation between adolescent gambling and these problematic behaviors remains unclear.
“We can’t determine the cause and effect,” Lynch said. “It’s not clear which one causes the other.”
If adolescent gambling can predict alcohol and drug problems, early identification of addictive tendencies may help young gamblers avoid future problems, she said.
“There is a lot of overlap between gambling and other addictive disorders,” Lynch said. “Problem gambling itself is an addictive disorder and — is related to risk-taking. Our study suggests that gambling may be a warning sign for other high-risk behaviors.”
Lynch said individuals with vulnerable or “thrill-seeking” personality types who are attracted to gambling may also be attracted to high-risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use.
Joe Kopchick ’06, a junior in Saybrook College and avid poker player, said he agreed with Lynch’s speculation.
“I think the correlation, if it’s there, is for seeking thrills — both give you a rush,” he said. “The highs are pretty high and the lows are pretty low.”
Another poker enthusiast, Bryce Adams ’08, said many poker players have difficulty controlling their impulses because poker, like alcohol and drugs, is addictive.
“Poker and substance abuse are definitely interrelated because the same people that continually hit the bottle will always go back to the table one more time,” he said. “They don’t how to use in moderation.”
The report also examined gambling patterns among adolescents, including the type of gambling performed and reasons given for gambling.
Lynch said adolescent and early-onset adult gamblers were more likely to engage in poker, sports betting and other types of gambling that involve some skill or strategy.
Adolescents were also more likely to gamble for social reasons, while adults often reported that they gamble to make money. Additionally, the study showed adolescents were less likely than adult gamblers to report large wins and losses, a criterion used to assess problematic gambling in adults.
Lynch said new measures for identifying problematic gambling in adolescents and young adults are needed because of the increasing popularity of youth gambling.
“We need to look at what effects the increasing prevalence of gambling is producing,” Lynch said. “This study points out the need for long-term studies for the causal relationship between gambling and other high-risk behaviors.”
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