Authors: Anthony Quinn, PhD, et al.
Abstract: Previous research has examined how the age at which an individual first gambles (age of gambling onset) correlates with problematic behavior later in life, such as problematic alcohol or substance use. Much less is known about how age of gambling onset, particularly as a child or as a young adult, might influence future gambling.
The research team examined three age groups (under 18, 18-20, 21 and over) and found no statistically significant associations between age of gambling onset and severity of recent pathological gambling, nor gambling expenditure, in the past year, nor gambling frequency in the past week.
“Future longitudinal study should discern the causality of these findings and ascertain whether these findings can be extended to older and clinical populations,” say the authors. “Future work should explore other variables, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic background, that may be relevant to understanding variations in age of gambling onset and its repercussions.”
Importance: Gambling has become pervasive among males and females of all ages, especially with the introduction of online gambling. Literature highlights the prevalence of underage gambling in the US as an ongoing concern despite all forms of gambling being illegal under the age of 18 in all states and some forms of gambling being illegal under the age of 21 in others. As the authors say, gambling can precede problematic gambling, both during adolescence and adulthood, and there is a need for an improved understanding of underlying risks and protective factors.
Research involving children, adolescents, and young adults should be cognizant of comorbidities between gambling and other forms of addiction and maladaptive behavior during childhood and beyond. Correlations have been noted between early age of gambling onset and (co-occurring) problematic alcohol use, drug or substance use, smoking, depression, poor physical health, bankruptcy, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In light of negative outcomes of continued gambling over the life course, particularly from a young age, there are opportunities to identify characteristics of gambling behavior that might serve as conduits towards these outcomes. More specifically, there is an opening for research to examine whether age of gambling onset correlates with an individual’s gambling frequency, incurred gambling losses, and performance in a neurocognitive gambling task.
“This is important so that prevention efforts can be put in place to limit these detrimental behaviors where they are found to be significant indicators of gambling disorder and a possible antecedent to co-occurring risks,” say the authors.
Conflicting studies have found both that gambling later in life is shaped by gambling as a child or adolescent, and that it is not. “However, scholarly work is consistent in its call for closer investigation of how childhood upbringing can shape gambling in later life so that precursors to the adult clinical presentation of pathological gambling are better understood,” say the authors.
Availability: Published in The American Journal on Addictions.