Early exposure to gambling a risk factor for later addiction

Early exposure to gambling a risk factor for later addiction

Media release — 24 July 2014

New Australian research has indicated a possible link between early exposure to gambling and the likelihood of becoming a problem gambler later in life.

In research that will be presented to the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies’ conference next week, researchers found that many high-risk gamblers had been exposed to gambling early in their lives.

The Institute’s Australian Gambling Research Centre Manager, Dr Anna Thomas said that while early exposure to gambling within families was common, the context was important and some types of exposure appeared potentially more harmful than others.

“Lottery tickets as birthday gifts, family card games or betting on the Melbourne Cup are common experiences within Australian families and people who became no or low-risk gamblers later in life felt these were fun, recreational activities that often happened in the context of a family social occasion,” Dr Thomas said.

“However, higher risk gamblers recalled different types of exposure, for example seeing a parent play the pokies excessively or being allowed to regularly attend horse races meetings with a family member. Parents modelled this very frequent and excessive gambling as normal behaviour.

“Some of those with gambling problems as adults had also been actively encouraged to gamble as children, for example by parents who placed horse race bets for them, covering the cost of the bets and handing over winnings, but shielding them from the experience of losses by ensuring they were never directly out of pocket.”

The qualitative research involved detailed ‘life history’ interviews with 48 men and women aged 18-80 in metropolitan Melbourne and a non-identified rural Victorian area, including low, moderate and high-risk gamblers as well as ex-problem gamblers.

Dr Thomas said as well as early exposure to gambling, the research also sought to examine early negative life experiences and the possible impact on high-risk gamblers later in life.

“The vast majority of moderate and high risk gamblers had experienced difficulties in their family of origin including conflicts, lack of communication, unsupportive parents, parental separation and the resulting issues that can stem from that,” she said.

“Addiction and mental health issues also tended to feature in these families which led to a lack of cohesion and often chaotic family backgrounds.

“For some of those with later gambling issues, the lack of encouragement or emotional distance in childhood was linked to their own later gambling.

“High risk gamblers who had abusive experiences in childhood reported that they’d used gambling as a way of escaping problems or trying to feel more ‘in control’.

“The findings overall suggest that problem gambling may partly be an outcome of very negative early childhood experiences and early exposure to excessive gambling modelled to kids in the family environment.”

The research presentation ‘The importance of where you come from: Exploring the impact of early life experiences on later gambling’ will be presented at the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies’ conference Families In A Rapidly Changing World being held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from July 30 to 1 August.

Dr Anna Thomas is the Manager of the Australian Gambling Research Centre at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and an Adjunct Research Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology. This presentation is based on research conducted by Dr Lise Saugeres, Dr Anna Thomas and Professor Susan Moore.

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