Bar chart graphic of different gambling activities
October 2, 2017

Students who participate in gambling activities might also be prone to substance use given an overlap of risk factors, according to a new analysis of data from the College Life Study. 

The College Life Study (CLS), led by Behavioral and Community Health Associate Professor Amelia Arria, tracks health risk behaviors among more than 1,000 students who were incoming first-year college students in 2004. CLS data is collected annually and analyzed to gain insight on the relationship between participants’ health-relatedbehaviors and social, emotional, and functional outcomes throughout young adulthood.

In a recent study, the CLS research team assessed the prevalence of gambling behaviors among participants duringYear 5 of the study, when the majority of participants were 22 years old. Results showed that 60 percent of the sample gambled during the past year, with casino gambling and playing cards for money as the most prevalent activities. Frequent gambling was less common, with only 6 percent of the sample gambling weekly or more.

To examine the relationship between gambling, substance use, and potentially shared risk factors, researchers also analyzed data on demographics, parental substance use and mental health history, behavioral disinhibition, mental health, and extracurricular involvement that had been collected in earlier study years.

Participants who gambled were more likely to be male, athletes, and involved in Greek life during college, and gambling was more frequent among individuals who had higher levels of behavioral dysregulation. The direct effects of sex, race/ethnicity, sensation-seeking, and behavioral dysregulation on both gambling and substance use were partially or completely explained by the shared variance between these two behaviors.

Very few risk factors were exclusively associated with gambling and not substance use, highlighting the overlap between the risk factors for these two behaviors. However, more research is needed to understand whether involvement in either gambling or substance use contributes to an escalation of the other behavior.

“Given frequent co-occurrence of gambling and substance use, these behaviors could be addressed simultaneously through prevention activities,” a research brief of the study stated. “However, differing risk factors for gambling and substance use suggest a need for unique prevention and intervention approaches.”


Related People
Amelia Arria
Related Degree: 
MPH, Behavioral and Community Health