Previous studies have found an association between gambling and adolescent problem behaviors.
For instance, a 2009 study by the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions in New York found that 1 in 10 young adolescent boys exhibit symptoms of conduct disorder as well as symptoms of problem gambling.
Interestingly, that study reported only 4% of female adolescents exhibit symptoms of conduct disorder and 2% display symptoms of problem gambling.
“Conduct disorder” was defined as a set of problem behaviors that include lying, stealing, vandalism, impulsivity, substance abuse, verbal and physical aggression, cruelty to pets or people, and repetitive behavior that violates the rights of others or social norms.
Problem sexual behaviors have also been linked to gambling in some studies – however, these studies had examined mostly white populations. The new study collected data from black adolescents in nine primary schools in Baltimore, MD.
“Despite evidence that problem gambling is more prevalent among African-American adolescents and adults, few adolescent studies included a large subgroup of African-Americans in their samples,” says first author Dr. Silvia Martins.
Nearly 90% of adolescent gamblers initiated sex before age 18
Dr. Martins and her team wanted to see whether sexual behavior linked with unintended consequences – such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – are associated with gambling in adolescents.
The new study found that 49% of the adolescents in the study had gambled at least once before the age of 18. Of those who had gambled by age 18, 46% were frequent gamblers.
The study also showed that adolescent gamblers were more likely to initiate sex before they reached 18 than non-gamblers – 89% had sex by age 18 and 35% had sex by age 13. Of the sexually active youths, 9% had at some point had an STI.
Dr. Martin and colleagues graded impulsivity using “the impulsivity sub scale of the Teacher Observation of Classroom Adaptation-Revisted” to compare outcomes of gambling 13 year olds with non-gambling 13 year olds who had a high impulsivity score.
They found that the gambling 13 year olds were more likely to have become pregnant or impregnated someone than the non-gamblers.
By the age of 18, male gamblers were more likely to have impregnated someone than female gamblers were to have become pregnant.
“Our findings are complementary to earlier studies that showed an association between gambling with an earlier age of onset of sexual activities, however, participants in these samples were predominantly white,” said Dr. Martins.
Dr. Martins recommends that existing programs addressing problem behaviors in adolescents should be expanded to include gambling prevention and intervention elements. She also asserts that interventions should work to improve the decision-making skills of adolescents and include the promotion of safe sex.