Child maltreatment and problem gambling

Content type
Short article

November 2016


Elly Robinson

Child abuse is associated with an increased risk of gambling problems in adulthood, according to a systematic review published recently in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect. The association was significant for multiple forms of maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and psychological maltreatment.

For the review, comprehensive searches were conducted across a number of health science databases, with a total of 23 articles included in the data synthesis after inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied. No randomised controlled trials were found, but a number of cohort studies were included in the review.

Interestingly, the association between childhood maltreatment and problem gambling in adulthood did not remain when mental disorders, such as mood and anxiety disorders, were present. The authors suggested that mental disorders may somehow serve as mediators in the development of problem gambling after maltreatment, or child maltreatment is a shared cause of both gambling and mental disorders. Other factors may also mediate the risk of problem gambling in childhood victims of abuse, such as problems with impulsivity.

Evidence regarding the extent to which adult problem gamblers are at risk of maltreating their children was also examined. The evidence was limited, with only three studies included in the review. Two of the studies showed associations between problem gambling and physical abuse of children. The remaining study showed an association between problem gambling and increased risk of childhood scabies and ear infections in children.

The authors concluded that there was a lack of evidence to make any strong recommendations regarding whether those who treat problem gamblers should inquire about the safety of children in the home. However, they suggested that from an ethical or child-centred point of view, such questions were a reasonable addition to assessments.

It was considered, however, that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that child welfare professionals should inquire about parental gambling in family risk assessments. This may help to identify other pathways of interventions in at-risk families and reduce the risk of abuse or neglect.

There were a number of limitations to the review, including different definitions of problem gambling and child maltreatment across studies. The authors proposed that future studies of gambling pathology could include questions about the effects of gambling on children, in order to increase the research evidence base regarding maltreatment risk of children of problem gamblers.


Lane, W., Sacco, P., Downton, K., Ludeman, E., Levy, L. & Tracy, J. (2016). Child maltreatment and problem gambling: A systematic review. Child Abuse and Neglect, 58, 24-38.

The feature image is by Simon Pearson, CC BY-NC 2.0.