Antecedents of Gambling in Adolescence and Early Adulthood


Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something of value, such as money or property, upon the outcome of a game involving chance. People gamble for a variety of reasons, including the excitement of winning money and the chance to try out new strategies. However, there are also serious risks associated with gambling. If you are worried about your own gambling habits or those of someone close to you, it is important to seek help. A number of organisations offer advice and support for people who have gambling problems. Some services are free of charge, while others are not.

Adolescents are particularly susceptible to gambling problems, partly because of cognitive immaturity and a poor understanding of statistical probability. This can lead to chasing losses and other problems such as illusions of control (Chambers and Potenza 2003). The risk may be increased by the availability of betting on sporting events, which is often promoted with the promise of large jackpots.

In addition, adolescence is when most people become sexually active for the first time. This can also increase the risk of gambling-related problems, such as anorexia or bulimia (Derevensky and Choudhury 2005). The use of drugs and alcohol can also affect a person’s ability to regulate their emotions, making them more likely to take impulsive risks and to gamble (Gamble and Shapiro 1996).

A longitudinal study is needed to explore the antecedents of gambling behavior in adolescence and early adulthood. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort is a large contemporary UK cohort that provides a unique opportunity to investigate these issues, as participants are being tracked over time. ALSPAC collects a wealth of data on individuals and their families, including information on family gambling activity. In addition, the ALSPAC sample is representative of the population in terms of social class and location.

Data on gambling activities were collected from the ALSPAC cohort at ages 17 years, 20 years and 24 years using computer-administered questionnaires in research clinics and online. A total of 3566 individuals completed all three gambling surveys. Individual, parental and family antecedents of regular gambling were explored using logistic regression models.

Results indicate that the likelihood of engaging in regular gambling increases during adolescence and peak at age 20 years, before declining monotonically with age. The likelihood of gambling is significantly higher for males than females and is higher among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds. Individual antecedents of regular gambling include being male, having a low IQ, an external locus of control and high sensation-seeking scores. This information can be used to develop strategies aimed at preventing gambling in adolescence and early adults. This could include addressing family relationships, providing alternative activities to gambling and offering debt counselling. In addition, individual counselling can be helpful to work through the specific issues that have been created by problem gambling and laying the foundations for a healthy life without gambling behaviours.