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Gambling and Compulsive Alcohol Use Among College Students: Further Evidence of Links

by: Institute Staff | Mar 15, 2011

The Task Force on College Gambling Policies issued a report in 2009 recommending that student health professionals screen for gambling problems among students engaged in risky behaviors. Since the release of this report, new research has been published that provides evidence that a single question can open up information about risky behaviors.

For example, alcohol use by college students – and binge drinking in particular – has been associated with a range of risky behaviors, including gambling. A new study published in the American Journal on Addictions provides further evidence of this link by focusing on the quality of drinking behavior rather than on the quantity of alcohol consumed , which is the typical measure used by researchers to identify students at risk for alcohol-related problems (Pedrelli et al., 2010). Specifically, this study examined compulsive drinking, described as “persistent thoughts about alcohol, inability to control alcohol consumption, and a compulsive drive to consume alcohol” (Pedrelli et al., 2010, p. 15). The authors of the study hypothesized that this behavior would be associated with an increased likelihood of substance use, unsafe sex and gambling.

The 904 study participants were undergraduates at three universities in various regions who were predominantly female (54.8 percent), Caucasian (57.1 percent) and living on campus (39.5 percent). They were asked questions from the Consumptive Habits Questionnaire (Guidi et al., 2009). One question asked respondents to report on whether they engaged in a number of risky behaviors, including compulsive use of street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and caffeine and activities such as compulsive gambling.

Both females and males who reported compulsive alcohol use were at a greater risk for risky behaviors. However, while males in this group were more likely to gamble, there was no statistically significant association in females between compulsive drinking and gambling.

The authors offered several possible reasons for the link between compulsive drinking and risky behaviors: the pharmacological effect of alcohol and drugs in lifting inhibitions; the possibility that problematic behaviors share a biological foundation; shared personality traits such as sensation-seeking and impulsivity; and that students who report compulsive drinking might be more at ease reporting on other risky behaviors.

The practical implications of these findings suggest that researchers can identify the risky behaviors with a single question, which bodes well for enabling college student health professionals to identify potentially problematic behaviors. The authors explained, “In light of the limited resources available on college campuses overall, and in particular in settings where screening can be conducted such as at health centers, asking about compulsive drinking may represent a helpful strategy to identify high-risk college students” (Pedrelli et al., 2010, p.19).


Guidi, J., Pender, M., Hollon, S.D., et al. (2009). The prevalence of compulsive eating and exercise among college students: An exploratory study. Psychiatry Research, 165, 154-162.

Pedrelli, P., Bitran, S., Shyu, I., Baer, L., Guidi, J., Tucker, D. D., et al. (2010). Compulsive alcohol use and other high-risk behaviors among college students. American Journal on Addictions, 20(1), 14-20.

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The person sitting next to

The person sitting next to you in church, the man in line at the grocery store, or one of your co-workers; any one of these could be involved with a gambling problem. Imagine your grandmother committing a crime to support her gambling addiction. I am a recovering alcoholic, gambler, and have recovered from other addictive behaviors. I published a book, Gripped by Gambling, where the readers can follow the destructive path of the compulsive gambler, a prison sentence, and then on to the recovery road.
I recently published a second book, Switching Addictions, describing additional issues that confront the recovering addict. These are two books you might consider adding to your library. I also publish a free online newsletter, Women Helping Women, which has been on-line for more than ten years and is read by hundreds of women (and men) from around the world.  ( I was interviewed and appeared on the 60 Minutes show in January 2011, which was moderated by Leslie Stahl.
Marilyn Lancelot

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