Gambling May Be More Common Than Alcoholism

New study finds that problem gambling is rising among African-Americans, Native Americans and younger people.

Posted: 04/01/2011 04:12 PM EDT

While buying a scratch-off lottery ticket every now and then or hitting up Atlantic City for the weekend with your friends can be in good fun, a new study suggests that more and more people are taking gambling to the next level. So much so, that problem gambling is beginning to surpass alcoholism in the U.S.

Problem gambling encompasses more than compulsive gamblers who run through their 401K on the slot machines in Vegas or at home playing poker online. It can be used to describe gambling behavior, which causes disruption in any important life function, whether psychological, physical or social.

To understand how this addiction is affecting Americans, researchers from the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo analyzed two existing national surveys and found that levels of gambling (frequent gambling and problem gambling) increased during people's teen years, peaked in the 20s and 30s and then declined in their 70s. While whites were much more likely than African-Americans to report any gambling within the past year, rates of frequent gambling were higher among Blacks and Native Americans.

This particular study is important because its findings challenge previous research and the common belief that gambling issues are uncommon.

Past research has found that African-Americans have a higher rate of compulsive gambling than whites, and the rate is about twice the average among those living within 50 miles of a casino. Low-income Americans and people with limited education, tempted by the desire for unattainable material wealth, are also particularly susceptible to problem gambling.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, about 1 percent of American adults — nearly 3 million people — are pathological gamblers. Another 2–3 percent have less serious but still significant problems, and as many as 15 million people are at risk.

The American Psychiatric Association states that pathological gamblers have five or more of these signs; and people at risk have two:

-- Preoccupation with past, present, and future gambling experiences and with ways to obtain money for gambling.

-- Need to increase the amount of wagers.

-- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop.

-- Becoming restless or irritable when trying to cut back or stop.

-- Gambling to escape from everyday problems or to relieve feelings of helplessness, anxiety, or depression.

-- Trying to recoup immediately after losing money (chasing losses).

-- Lying about gambling.

-- Committing illegal acts to finance gambling.

-- Losing or jeopardizing a personal relationship, job, or career opportunity because of gambling.

-- Requesting gifts or loans to pay gambling debts.

Learn more about the risk factors of problem gambling here.

 

(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

From Our Partners