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Gambling and the trait of addiction
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Gambling and the trait of addiction in a sample of New Zealand university students

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MENTAL HEALTH

Addictions & Substance Use

New Zealand Journal of Psychology,  Jun 2003  by Clarke, Dave

A recent national survey (Amey, 2001) found that proportionately more young people in New Zealand gambled on cards, scratch tickets and gaming machines than older age groups. From North American surveys, young urban males in college are at risk of being problem gamblers. The present study compared the prevalence of gambling and problem gambling among a sample of 171 first year university students with the prevalence found nationally and internationally. The students, median age 23 years, completed a questionnaire consisting of demographic items, questions about gambling behavior, the Revised South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS-R), a depression inventory, and the Eysenck Addiction scale. Approximately 97% of the sample gambled for money and 16% of the 165 gamblers were classified as problem gamblers. Maori gambled on more activities than the European/Pakeha, Pacific Island or Asian groups did, but there were no other significant sociodemographic differences. There were significant differences between problem and non-problem gamblers on gambling frequency, number of activities, amount gambled, parents' gambling, continuous gambling, depression and Addiction. Logistic regression analysis showed that after controlling for gambling frequency, number of activities, amount gambled, continuous gambling and parents' gambling, Addiction was a significant predictor in discriminating between problem and non-problem gamblers. Combining initiatives in the prevention and treatment of drug and gambling addiction was suggested.

In a previous study (Clarke & Rossen, 2000) the prevalence of adolescent gambling and problem gambling recalled by a sample of New Zealand university students was compared with that of Reid & Searle's (1996) representative national sample. Generally, the students reported that they were more involved during adolescence in all forms of gambling for money than either the national sample or samples of adolescents overseas were. The sample also had a larger proportion of problem gamblers than the other groups.

Problem gambling is typically defined by three or more symptoms on the widely-used South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS; Abbott & Volberg, 1996, 1999; Lesieur & Blume, 1987). Probable pathological gambling is defined by five or more symptoms. The inclusion of "probable" is to distinguish SOGS' respondents from pathological gamblers identified in clinical interviews (Abbott, 2001). The SOGS is a 20-item, self-report questionnaire based on DSM-III-R criteria. It consists of questions about problems associated with gambling in the respondent's lifetime on a "yes-no" basis. The symptoms include trying to recoup losses, borrowing or stealing money to gamble, and escaping from dysphoric moods (anxiety, depression). However, the symptoms do not include frequency of gambling, range of activities, or amount of money spent on gambling. Nine of the items are sources of borrowing money, so that effectively only 12 items measure distinct symptoms of problem gambling. Abbott and Volberg (1996) have provided data to support the validity of the SOGS' criteria for problem and probable pathological gambling in New Zealand.

In a partial replication of the earlier survey, the first purpose of the present study was to ascertain the extent of gambling in a group of first year university students compared with a similar age group in the most recent representative national sample (Amey, 2001). The second purpose was to compare problem gamblers to non-problem gamblers on frequency of gambling, number of different gambling activities, amount gambled, continuous gambling, parents' gambling, depression and the trait of addiction. The third purpose was to assess the relative importance of each of these variables in predicting the classification of problem gamblers.

Problem versus Non-problem Gamblers

A number of variables have been associated with problem gambling. Previous research in New Zealand and other countries has found that compared to non-problem gamblers, problem gamblers play for money more frequently, on more activities and with greater amounts of money; they also perceive that their parents were more likely to gamble excessively (Abbott, 2001 ; Abbott & Volberg, 1996; Bergh & Kuhlhorn, 1994; Brown, 1996; Browne & Brown, 1994; Buchta, 1995; Carroll & Huxley, 1994; Clarke & Rossen, 2000; Coventry & Brown, 1993; Dube et al, 1996; Fisher, 1993;Hendriksetal, 1997; Ladouceuretal., 1997;Moore & Ohtsuka, 1997). Whether or not their parents actually gambled excessively, the important point is that their perception may influence their own assessment of their gambling behaviour. They may think that they also have a problem with gambling, and this perception could bias their answers on the self-report, problem gambling measures. Further, problem gamblers are more likely to be involved in continuous gambling, whereby winnings can be immediately risked again within the same session (Abbott, 2001; Clarke & Rossen, 2000). Continuous forms of gambling include scratch tickets, gaming machines, track betting, card games, and casinos.

Individually, factors such as youth, unemployment, lower education, lower socio-economic status and non-Caucasian ethnicity have also been associated with problem gambling (Abbott, 2001; Abbott & Volberg, 1999; Rossen, 2001; Volberg, 1994). Although some investigations have found that young males are more likely to be problem gamblers than young females (Abbott & Volberg, 1996; Buchta, 1995; Griffiths 1995b; Moore & Ohtsuka, 1997; Winters, et al., 1993), other studies noted that gender differences are not important or decrease with time (Browne & Brown, 1994; Fisher, 1993; Hraba & Lee, 1996; Ladouceur et al., 1997; Lopez Viets, 2001). Problem gambling among women of all ages may be on the increase, with problem gambling rates becoming equivalent to men's rates (Abbott & Volberg, 2000; Amey, 2001).

The relationship of depression to problem gambling has been demonstrated in a number of studies (Abbott & Volberg, 1996; Echeburua et al., 2001; Fisher, 1993; Getty et al., 2000; Griffiths, 1993, 1995a, b; Gupta, 2000; Gupta & Derevensky, 1998; Ladouceur et al, 1997; Lopez Viets, 2001; Lumley & Roby, 1995; Murray, 1993; Raviv, 1993; Sullivan, 1994a; Vitaro et al, 1999). Problem gamblers are likely to have more symptoms of depression than non-problem gamblers, possibly because losing is a depressing experience.

Addiction and Gambling

Substance abuse is frequently associated with problem gambling (Abbott, 2001; Bergh & Kuhlhorn, 1994; Echeburua et al, 2001; Griffiths, 1995b; Hendriks et al, 1997; Hraba & Lee, 1996; Ibanez et al, 2001 ; Ladouceur et al, 1997; Murray, 1993; Orford et al. 1996; Petry, 2000; Shaffer & Hall, 1996; Winters, et al., 1993). In New Zealand, a recent national survey (Abbott, 2001) reported that 37 percent of lifetime problem gamblers engaged in hazardous alcohol use, more than double that of the adult population. In the 12 months up to Abbott's survey, 16% of the problem gamblers used cannabis, and 12% other illicit drugs, compared to the adult population rates of 7% and 1%, respectively. Some evidence (Orford et al. 1996;Rozin & Stoess, 1993) suggests that problem gamblers are as attached to gambling as drinkers are to drinking, but do not seem to suffer to the same extent the problems of neurological adaptation, tolerance and withdrawal. Thus, there seems to be some overlap between substance abuse and problem gambling.

Recent research has provided some support for the existence of a cluster of characteristics that could be described as an addictive personality trait (Hudak, 1993; Ibanez et al., 2001). For example, Valeithian (1999) found that there was a high degree of similarity on the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-II) traits among women with addictions to chemicals, food and harmful relationships. The MCMI-II measures personality disorders related to Axis II of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The women's personality pattern was distinct from other personality types, and described as a combination of neurotic and antisocial traits. Similarly, Lavelle et al. (1999) reported that adolescent female drug users had higher scores on the MMPI scales related to neuroticism, and on the psychopathic deviance (Pd) and mania (Ma) scales than female non-users. The male adolescent drug users also had higher scores on Pd and Ma than male non-users, but not on the neuroticism scales. However, the authors suggested that Pd and Ma might merely be measuring delinquency, rather than an addictive personality trait.

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