Gambling and Adverse Childhood Experiences

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15th October 2022

Exposure to adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, and household and community dysfunction, are risk factors for poor mental and physical health outcomes across the life course. In the UK, it is believed that as many as one in two adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience before the age of 18.

Previous research has demonstrated the association between adversity in childhood and onset of chronic health conditions, psychiatric disorders, and substance misuse. Adverse Childhood Experiences are increasingly recognised as a public health issue, and subsequently many health and social care organisations are implementing trauma-informed practices to help mitigate for the harms experienced by individuals.

A small but growing body of research now suggests there is a link between childhood adversity and disordered gambling. Individuals with a history of childhood adversity appear more likely to report disordered gambling as adolescents and adults.

Data from a US household survey found than 14.8% of respondents who reported living with a gambling addiction also met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [1]. Further research to evaluate patients with PTSD and disordered gambling found that PTSD typically precedes disordered gambling, suggesting that underlying trauma could lead to gambling harms [2].

Similarly, exposure to trauma or adversity, particularly in childhood, has been consistently associated with disordered gambling and can often predict gambling onset, severity, and frequency [3].

This has profound implications for how we should all view gambling harms, how we approach tackling stigma associated with gambling behaviour, and the narrative of personal responsibility often favoured by the gambling industry.

Public health practitioners should now be advocating for further research into the association between adversity and disordered gambling to understand whether particular forms of adversity represent a greater risk factor for the development of disordered gambling or if cumulative exposure should be considered an additional risk factor. In addition, research is needed to explore how the gambling industry may be inadvertently leveraging underlying trauma to reap huge profits at the expense of vulnerable individuals, their families, and communities.

  1. Kessler et al. (2008). The prevalence and correlates of DSM-IV Pathological Gambling in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication:
  2. Najavits et al. (2011). Pathological Gambling and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Study of the Co-Morbidity versus each alone:
  3. Hodgins et al. (2010). The Association Between Childhood Maltreatment and Gambling Problems in a Community Sample of Adult Men and Women:
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