Know When to Hold 'Em…

Gambling problems more likely to develop among more impulsive boys

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Serious gambling problems can destroy the life of a gambler and his loved ones. Researchers are now learning how to tell earlier on who might be more likely to develop a gambling problem.

A recent study found that being impulsive in first grade and as a preteen puts boys at a higher risk for gambling as young adults. Overall, the children's level of impulsivity decreased as they got older, but a child who was acting impulsively as a first grader was much more likely to have higher impulsivity as a preteen or young teen.

In fact, impulsive young teens were three times more likely to have a gambling problem when they were 18 to 20 years old.

"Teach your children self-control."

The study, led by Weiwei Liu, PhD, at the University of Chicago, aimed to determine whether being impulsive in early adolescence was linked to a greater risk of gambling problems in young adulthood. The researchers tracked 310 boys living in urban parts of Baltimore from first grade until their late teens. Most of the children (87 percent) were African American and most (70 percent) came from a low socioeconomic background.

While the boys were aged 11 to 15, their teachers rated their impulsivity based on their behavior in the classroom each year. The boys had also been rated when in first grade.

Impulsivity measures were based on behavior such as not waiting for their turn, blurting out answers or interrupting.

Then, when the boys were 17, 19 and 20, the researchers assessed their gambling behaviors based on responses from the boys to a standard gambling screening psychology tool for teenagers.

The researchers broke the results from their study into two groups: those with high impulsivity (41 percent of the boys) and those with low impulsivity (59 percent of the boys). Boys who had high impulsivity when 11 to 15 years old were twice as likely to be at-risk for gambling problems and almost three times as likely to have gambling problems later.

Overall, 9 percent of the boys were identified as problem gamblers, and 20 percent were at-risk for problem gambling. Most of the boys in the study – 67 percent – gambled in some form or other. The study focused primarily on minority boys from lower socioeconomic groups because boys tend to be more impulsive in past research, and minorities with lower incomes are at a higher risk for gambling problems.

"From our findings we see that teaching impulse control early in elementary school may have a long term benefit in decreasing the likelihood of youth following an elevated trajectory of impulsivity," said Dr. Martins in a release about the study.

The research was published November 20 in the journal Addiction. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child and Human Development. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 22, 2012
Last Updated:
March 26, 2013