Violent Behavior Tied to Gambling

A new U.K. study finds that men who gamble are more likely to act violently towards others. Moreover, investigators determined the most addicted gamblers are the most prone to serious violence.

Researchers found that gambling in any capacity — pathological, problem, or so-called casual gambling — was associated with significantly increased risk of violence, including domestic abuse.

The study appears in the journal Addiction.

Investigators surveyed 3,025 men about whether they had ever engaged in violent behavior. They were asked if they had ever been in a physical fight, assaulted, or deliberately hit anyone, if they had used a weapon, and whether the violence was perpetrated when they were drunk or on drugs.

The survey also asked if they had ever hit a child, suffered from mental illness, whether they took regular medication, or exhibited impulsive behavior.

Study participants came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds across the UK and varied in age; they were also asked about whether they gambled. Eighty percent of participants admitted to taking part in some sort of gambling activity during their lifetime.

The researchers found a statistically significant link between gambling and violent behavior — an association which increased the more severe the gambling habit. Just over one-half of pathological gamblers, 45 percent of problem gamblers, and 28 percent of ‘casual gamblers’ reported some form of physical fight in the past five years.

In contrast, among the non-gamblers, only 19 percent reported being involved in violence.

Additionally, gambling was associated with an increased likelihood of weapons being used in acts of violence, with more than a quarter in the pathological category, 18 percent of problem gamblers, and seven percent of non-problem gamblers reporting weapon usage.

Just over 15 percent of non-problem gamblers also admitted to having had a fight while intoxicated, which rose to more than a quarter in problem gamblers and almost a third in pathological gamblers.

The study also found that pathological and problem gamblers are more likely to have hit a child, with almost 10 percent of pathological gamblers and just over six percent of problem gamblers admitting to such behavior.

Those with likely pathological gambling problems also had increased odds of committing violent behavior against a partner. The results remained statistically significant even after adjusting the data to account for related characteristics such as mental illness or impulsive behavior.

However, it was not clear whether gambling and the propensity towards violence have a common cause, or whether one increases risk of the other.

Researchers said the findings could help improve prevention and treatment programs.

The study was led by psychologists from the University of Lincoln, UK, working with researchers from Queen Mary University, University College Cork, University of East London, Imperial College London, and AUT University in New Zealand.

Lead author Dr. Amanda Roberts, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, said: “Understanding the relationship between gambling and violence will help treatment services tailor intervention and treatment programs for their clients.

“Our study examined a nationally representative sample of males and confirmed strong links between problematic gambling and violent behaviors, and also showed links with non-problem gambling. The results reinforce the view that public health efforts to prevent problem gambling should include education around violence, and that there could be value in integrating those efforts with alcohol and drug abuse programs.

“Given the strong associations identified, there is some justification for establishing a standard battery of screens for gambling, alcohol, drug, and violence issues in a range of mental health and addictions settings.”

The study participants were men ranging in age from 18 to 64 years and came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds across England, Wales and Scotland.

The level of their gambling problem was determined by scoring a series of 20 questions answered by participants: People with a score of zero to two were classed as non-problem gamblers, those with scores of three and four were defined as problem gamblers, and probable pathological gamblers were those who scored five or more.

Source: University of Lincoln/EurekAlert