Family Studies

Family studies indicate that pathological gambling may be familial. Adult problem gamblers are three to eight times more likely to report having at least one parent with a history of problem gambling compared with gamblers without problems (Gambino et al., 1993). Also, a similar familial pattern has been observed with college students (Winters et al., 1998) and adolescents (Winters et al., 1993a).

Previous research provides mounting evidence that children of alcoholics and of drug abusers are at increased risk for the development of alcohol and drug problems as they progress into adulthood (Goodwin, 1976; Gross and McCaul, 1991). Similar hypotheses about the familial and intergenerational influence of problem gambling on the gambling behavior of offspring have begun to be examined. A sample of predominately white male patients at a Veterans Administration hospital in Boston was asked about their perceptions of addictive behaviors among their parents and grandparents (Gambino et al., 1993). Nearly 25 percent indicated that their parents had problems with gambling, and 10 percent indicated this about their grandparents. Gambling was the second most prevalent behavior reported after drinking. Those who perceived that their parents had gambling problems were three times more likely to score as probable pathological gamblers on the South Oaks Gambling Screen. Those who also perceived that their grandparents had gambling problems had a 12-fold increased risk.

With a randomized sample of 844 adolescents from four southern California high schools, Jacobs and colleagues found that children who described their parents as pathological gamblers were more likely to report substance use than children who did not identify parents as pathological gamblers (Jacobs et al., 1989). They were also more likely to be overeaters, to be moderate-to-heavy gamblers, and to report resultant gambling problems. However, results such as these may suffer from differential recall bias—that is, people who have had gambling problems are more likely to attribute their gambling behavior to family involvement in gambling and related problems.

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