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Problem gamblers increasing, study tells gambling industry

BOSTON (BP)–Problem gambling isn’t just a matter of a psychological disorder such as addiction, a study by the Harvard Medical School division on addictions reports, and it’s a problem that affects nearly 10 percent of youth and college students.
The study was funded by the gambling industry’s National Center for Responsible Gaming. Data from 120 gambling studies of adult, adolescent and special populations published between 1977-97 was utilized, in what experts regard as “the most comprehensive analysis ever of compulsive gambling,” according to a New York Times report Dec. 7.
According to the study, “scientists and public policy makers have paid insufficient attention to level 2 (i.e., sub-clinical levels of gambling disorders) gamblers” in the United States and Canada.
The study noted: “Level 2 gamblers are much greater in number than their level 3 counterparts.”
Level 2, according to the report, involves “a pattern of gambling that is associated with a wide range of adverse reactions or consequences,” while level 3 involves “disordered gambling which satisfies ‘diagnostic’ criteria.”
Additionally, the study cited “a growing percentage of the adult population who are at risk for gambling disorders,” said one of its three authors, Howard Shaffer, associate professor of psychology in Harvard Medical School’s department of psychiatry. “This is significant as gambling disorders have both social and economic costs,” Shaffer said in a Harvard Medical School news release.
The increase of legalized gambling during the past 20 years may factor into the increase in adult gambling disorders, Shaffer said.
Among adolescents, the study reported, gambling disorders were significantly more prevalent than among adults.
At level 2 in problem gambling, for example, the study reported 9.45 percent of youth and 9.28 percent of college students will reach that level of problem gambling at some point in their lives.
Noting “past-year rates” provide “a better representation” of current statistics, the study noted 14.82 percent of youth had level 2 gambling problems in the past year.
Utilizing even the more conservative 9.45 percent figure, an estimated 6.4 million of the nation’s 68.7 million youth under age 18 will face level 2 gambling problems during their lives. (The population estimate, by the Department of Commerce, is as of 1995.)
Just as alarming, level 3 gambling disorders will be experienced by 3.88 percent of youth in their lifetimes, with 5.77 percent having experienced level 3 problems in the past year, the study reported.
Utilizing the more conservative 3.88 percent figure, 2.7 million of today’s youth will face level 3 gambling problems in their lifetimes.
Among adults, the study reported 3.85 percent will face a level 2 gambling problem at some point in their lives, while 2.8 percent of the adult population were at that level in the past year.
According to the study, “level 2 gamblers represent people who may be moving in two directions: some level 2 gamblers are moving toward an increasingly disordered state, while others are moving toward level 1 gambling. Some level 2 gamblers even may be moving to abstaining from gambling activities. It also is possible that level 2 gamblers may not be moving at all.”
Level 1 gamblers are those who face “little or no adverse consequence” from their gambling activities, and they account for the majority of Americans and Canadians who gamble, the study reported.
The study estimated the addiction rate among the adult population increased to 1.29 percent during a 1994-97 time frame, up from .84 percent during a 1977-93 time frame.
At present, 1.6 percent of adults will have a problem with level 3 gambling at some point in their lives, with 1.14 percent having had level 3 problems in the past year.
Paul Jones of the Mississippi Baptist Christian Action Commission and one of the gambling industry’s leading opponents, called the Harvard study proof “that gambling is hurting people” and is “a growing problem,” both in the “measurable increase of persons who have gambling disorders,” and in the disorders being “higher among young people than the general population.”