The relationship between gambling, significant life events, co-morbidity and associated social factors

Louise Holdsworth, Elaine Nuske and Nerilee Hing

What was the research?

This study investigated the relationships between gambling behaviour, significant life events, psychological conditions, social factors and gambling-related harm in people who gamble.

The research was conducted by Louise Holdsworth, Elaine Nuske and Nerilee Hing from the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University. It was funded by an early career researcher grant from the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

How was the research conducted?

The study involved qualitative telephone interviews with participants who were asked a series of questions about gambling, life events and health. The study involved two groups of participants:

  • 20 participants who gambled without experiencing problems
  • 20 participants who gambled and experienced problems as a result of their gambling.

Significant life events considered in the study included death of a spouse, major change in health status and significant problems at work. Common co-morbidities investigated in the study included depression, anxiety, other mental health conditions and alcohol and substance abuse.

As a qualitative study with a small sample size, one of its limitations is it does not provide a quantitative measure of the extent to which significant life events, co-morbidities and other social factors influence gambling behaviour.

What were key findings of the research?

  • Recreational and problem gamblers had experienced one or more significant life events in their lifetime
  • One or multiple psychological co-morbidities were more common among participants who experienced problems because of their gambling
  • Social support and connectedness were important factors in reducing stress associated with challenging life circumstances
  • Participants who did not experience problems with their gambling described having strong positive social networks and personal resilience and these were defining factors contributing to whether they increased their gambling when significant life events occurred
  • Participants who experienced problems with their gambling indicated that social factors such as early exposure to gambling, peer pressure and poor connection to the community, had contributed to an increase in their gambling activity
  • No difference was found between male and female participants in response to significant life events

How might this research be useful?

This exploratory study provides valuable insights into personal gambling histories and their complex relationship to life events and health.

The research builds on a small but growing body of research on the relationship between social connectedness and gambling. Findings from the study suggest reducing isolation and fostering local social and community networks are key factors in building resilience in those whose experience of significant life events might lead to negative gambling behaviour.

The findings in relation to comorbid psychological conditions and problem gambling also highlight the importance of a collaborative and coordinated approach to the provision of gambling and health support services.

Want to know more?

Full report of the study (PDF - 852.8 KB).

How to cite this research

Louise Holdsworth, Elaine Nuske, Nerilee Hing (2013). The relationship between gambling, significant life events, co-morbidity and associated social factors. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. 

GIRO research update

This summary is included in the March edition of the GIRO research updates.

Research - GIRO research update - March 2014 (PDF - 519.2 KB)

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