Antecedents of Gambling


A person who gambles has the potential to experience many forms of harm, including financial loss and personal distress. It is important to recognise the underlying reasons for gambling behaviour. A key reason is the way gambling is marketed, which appeals to socio-cultural constructs such as rituals, mateship, winning and success, social status, and thrills and excitement. In addition, the brain’s reward system is stimulated by gambling and the pleasure it brings. In some people, this stimulation may become over-stimulated and lead to a gambling addiction.

Individuals often use gambling as a way to self-soothe unpleasant feelings such as boredom, loneliness, anxiety or depression. They also may be trying to escape from other problems in their lives, such as family or work issues, or the grief associated with losing a loved one. Gambling can also provide an opportunity to be surrounded by different sights, sounds and emotions. Moreover, gambling can be a social activity and is often bundled with other social practices such as socialising, drinking and enjoying sport.

Consequently, understanding why and how people engage in gambling is complex. There are many influences from outside the individual, and it is essential that research in this area considers the ways in which these various forces interact. Furthermore, in order to mitigate gambling-related harms, interventions must be holistic and take into account the multifaceted nature of a person’s everyday practices.

A practice theory approach to gambling provides a means to do this. Practice theory theorises that a practice is comprised of multiple elements such as bodily and mental activities, the use of materials, knowledge and language, power and agency, and spaces and places. Considering all of these factors can help us to understand how and why a particular behaviour becomes habitual and routinised.

To explore this further, we used a contemporary UK cohort study to investigate the antecedents of gambling. Participants aged 17-24 years completed computer-administered gambling surveys in research clinics, and online. Multiple imputation techniques were used to reduce attrition bias. Univariable analyses on child, parental and SES antecedents to gambling were conducted using chi-square tests and ANOVA.

The results showed that a range of factors were associated with gambling, although none were found to be strongly predictive of gambling at any age. The most significant antecedents were the presence of family members with gambling problems and lower educational attainment. However, there was considerable within-person variation in gambling and preferences for different types of gambling. Future research should investigate whether it is possible to use a nexus of practices approach to identify additional determinants of gambling and to examine changing patterns over time. In the meantime, individuals experiencing a problem with gambling can seek assistance and recovery from a number of services that offer support and counselling. For example, inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programmes are available for those who can’t control their gambling behaviours without round the clock support. It is also important to try and find other healthy ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and overcome boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or learning relaxation techniques.