Gambling Addiction More Prevalent than Alcoholism in Adults

The Spectrum

Losing money and the support of family and friends are common consequences of alcoholism. Studies show, however, that gambling addiction is more prevalent in adults compared with alcoholism, and can have the same consequences.

After the age of 21, gambling is more of a problem behavior than drinking, according to a study conducted by the UB Research Institute on Addictions published in the Journal of Gambling Studies.

Co-investigators in the study are Dr. John W. Welte, senior research scientist; Dr. Grace M. Barnes, senior research scientist; Dr. William Wieczorek of Buffalo State College; Marie-Cecile O. Tidwell, project manager; and Joseph H. Hoffman, statistician.

The study was funded by a grant of $3,001,078 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Welte states that most gambling habits are developed in one’s teenage years and go on to reach their peaks around the 20s and 30s.

“The financial difficulties of casinos and state lotteries in the last couple of years suggest that gambling has declined,” Welte said. “Over the longer haul, no one knows because the studies haven’t been done. We are working on a new national survey, but the results won’t be published for a couple of years.”

Welte’s research has shown that American adults who live in lower-class neighborhoods or close to casinos are more likely to be problem gamblers.

The results of another study done by the RIA on college student gambling concluded that being in school was not a predictor of gambling, frequent gambling, or problem gambling after gender, age, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status was taken into account. However, being a college student was associated with higher levels of alcohol use and problem drinking.


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The study showed that students in college are twice as likely to consume alcohol and are one and a half times more likely to have a drinking problem in comparison to individuals not attending school. Being male was the strongest predictor of both problem gambling and problem drinking. Blacks were less likely than whites to drink heavily, yet they were more likely than whites to gamble more frequently.

Welte’s study concluded that young males should be targeted for prevention and intervention efforts for both problem gambling and problem drinking regardless of college student status. The study was published in the Journal of American College Health.

“The results of this study are pretty evident on our campus,” said Julius Peterson, a sophomore exercise science major. “Every weekend, it is evident that college students are abusing alcohol because it is hard to keep that quiet due to alcohol’s effects on an individual. I believe it’s much harder to detect problem gambling because you don’t see the kid playing online poker 24/7 or the person betting on [sports] games, especially since it’s illegal in most instances.”

There has always been public concern over high-risk, addictive behaviors among college students, especially binge drinking and, to a lesser extent, gambling. One can still ask the question if rates of problem behaviors among college students are high because of the increased freedom of the college experience itself, or if these behaviors are age-related. Welte’s study was the first of its kind that compared alcohol and gambling in this demographic.

“I have lost probably over a thousand dollars in online poker games,” said a UB undergraduate student, who wished to remain anonymous. “Initially this seems hard to grasp, but it’s hard to keep track of adding 50 dollars here and 25 dollars there to your account. You never actually lose money in your head [because] it’s just a number changing on the screen, until your bank statement comes.”

For more information on the study, visit

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