Changes in gambling behaviour and health

22 Apr, 2021
Changes in gambling behaviour and health
Associate Professor Maria Bellringer

As people move towards risky or problem gambling, they are more likely to move away from organised groups, according to a new AUT study.

This may manifest as withdrawal from sports, cultural or religious groups, leading to social isolation and reduced community contribution.

Associate Professor Maria Bellringer, Director of the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, says: “The results suggest that gambling harms may be felt more severely by community-focused populations like Māori and Pacific peoples, who are already disproportionately at risk of developing problematic gambling behaviours”.

The Ministry of Health funded study sought to understand the associations between changes in gambling behaviour (as people transition between not gambling, recreational gambling, and risky or problematic gambling) and changes in a variety of health, behavioural and sociologic factors, over time.

In contrast to most previous studies, which focused on a single point in time, researchers were able to map the ebb-and-flow of these associations over a four-year period (2012-2015). They analysed relevant New Zealand National Gambling Study data, collected from the same group of 2,770 adults, and used Markov modelling to try and understand the transitional events in a person’s life.

The findings show that transitioning from recreational gambling to risky or problematic gambling is most likely to be associated with negative health and lifestyle factors over time, including continuously smoking, maintained poor quality of life, and repeatedly experiencing one or more major stressful life events within the previous year. It is also likely to be associated with increased deprivation and reduced community interaction.

These negative health and lifestyle factors may be alleviated by transitioning out of risky or problematic gambling. People who moved out of risky gambling were less likely to drink alcohol excessively, and more likely to have a better quality of life.

Similarly, people who stopped gambling altogether were less likely to drink excessively or develop a chronic illness.

On the other hand, non-gamblers that started gambling recreationally were more likely to reduce their alcohol and tobacco consumption.

“This could be due to replacement of one behaviour with another”, says Bellringer.

“Although the association is complex, the knowledge that changes in gambling behaviour negatively affect changes in health and quality of life, can be used to inform public health responses to improve the lives of New Zealanders,” she says.

The New Zealand National Gambling Study: Correspondence between changes in gambling and gambling risk levels and health was conducted by the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre and AUT Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. A full version of the report is available on the Ministry of Health website.