Social & environmental influences in problem gambling

Written by latoya mcgill
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Social & environmental influences in problem gambling
Frequent social gambling is a factor influencing problem gambling. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

While problem gambling has some basis in genetics, many social and environmental factors influence problem gambling in men, women and children. A March 2010 study done at Florida State University showed that genetics explained about 70 per cent of the variance in problem gambling -- social and environmental factors made up the rest. Theories such as the social learning theory help explain social influences in problem gambling. Additional concepts and theories shed light on the role social and environmental factors play in the development of a gambling problem.

Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory states that people tend to model, learn and adopt behaviours that they observe as fun, appealing and positively reinforced. This social factor causes many children as well as adults to become problem gamblers. If children are exposed to gambling and the rewards that gambling can bring they, naturally, want to copy that behaviour. A 1997 study done at McGill University in Canada showed "86% of children who gamble regularly reported gambling with family members."

Gambling as a Social Activity

Much like many other vices such as drinking and smoking, gambling is often done socially among friends. People who are already genetically predisposed to having a gambling problem might be inclined to gamble more often and spend more money gambling than their peers. Being placed in an environment to gamble may trigger or enhance a person's desire to gamble. Social gambling gives a problem gambler a reason and an excuse to gamble.

Environment and Access to Gambling

People can gamble in nearly every city and every state from the convenience of their home by using their computer. Also, many states have casinos run by American Indian tribes. Living near or having access to a city that offers an environment for gamblers is likely to influence problem gambling. Living near a casino would not typically cause a gambling problem but it can certainly enhance, influence and provide a resource for people with a gambling problem.

Home and Family Environment

A gambling problem might stem from a home and family environment that is less than ideal. Just as some people turn to drinking or drugs during a depressing time or to escape problems in their environment, gambling can be used as an outlet. According to the website Problem Gambling, people have reported turning to gambling because "Gambling lets me forget my problems and pain for a while" and "Gambling gets me out of the house. I feel safe and welcome."

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