Study finds strong association between problem drinking and gambling, with risk increasing 23-fold

December 13, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Problem drinkers are 23 times more likely to have a gambling problem than individuals who do not have an alcohol problem, according to a study conducted at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions.

The study of the co-occurrence of gambling and alcohol in the United States, based on random telephone interviews with 2,600 Americans 18 and older, indicates that between 1 and 2 percent of the American population have a compulsive gambling problem.

And the rate of problem -- or pathological -- gambling is significantly higher among minorities and lower-income individuals, according to John W. Welte, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study who is a senior scientist at RIA and a research associate professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The results were published in the November issue of the Journal of Studies of Alcohol.

Funding for the study was provided by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Pathological gambling is what we used to call compulsive gambling," Welte explained. "Using two different statistical methods, we have determined that compulsive gambling is higher than previously reported. In fact, between 1 and 2 percent of the population -- one or two people in every 100 -- have a compulsive gambling problem."

Welte and colleagues found that compulsive gamblers are much more likely to be alcoholic or alcohol dependent than the average person. "If you have an alcohol problem," Welte said, "the odds of also having a gambling problem are 23 times higher, compared to individuals who do not have an alcohol problem. That's a really huge odds ratio."

Welte said the difference in prevalence of pathological gambling problems between Caucasian-, African- and Hispanic-Americans was found to be highly significant.

The rate among Caucasian-Americans, he said was .5 percent. Among African-Americans it was 3.7 percent and for Hispanic-Americans, 4.2 percent. In addition, pathological gambling was found to be greater among individuals with lower incomes.

"These trends have been found by other studies," according to Welte, "but they seem to be stronger in this study. The negative effects of gambling disproportionately hit respondents with lower socioeconomic status and some minorities."

He added that these findings are true of gambling, but are not necessarily true of alcohol dependence. However, when persons from higher socioeconomic groups are classified as pathological gamblers, they are more likely than lower income persons to be dependent on alcohol.
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Welte, a senior scientist with RIA since 1976, is focusing his current research on pathological gambling, the epidemiology of substance abuse, and the relationship between substance abuse and criminal offending. His co-investigators on the study were Grace M. Barnes, Ph.D., and William F. Wieczorek, Ph.D.

Barnes has been a senior scientist with RIA since 1971 and an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. Her work centers on adolescent alcohol and substance use, family issues and parenting, as well as gambling and alcohol use by youth. Wieczorek, formerly a scientist with RIA working in geographic analysis and public health issues related to substance abuse, now is director of the Center for Health and Social Research at Buffalo State College.

University at Buffalo

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