21 Apr 2021

Problem gamblers more likely to withdraw from community groups

3:06 pm on 21 April 2021

A new study has found people who problem gamble are more likely to withdraw from sports, cultural or religious groups.

Electronic gambling machines, or the pokies, are very addictive for some people.

New research could help identify people who might have a gambling problem, the study's author says (file image). Photo: Creative Commons

The study, funded by the Ministry of Health and undertaken by Auckland University of Technology (AUT), followed gamblers from 2012 to 2015.

Gambling and Addictions Research Centre associate professor Maria Bellringer - who was the lead author of the study - said this new information could help identify people who might have a gambling problem.

"If somebody is an active member of community groups and they pull away for no apparent reason, this could be an indicator that this person is experiencing gambling problems that are hidden from other people," Bellringer said.

That compounded adverse effects for Māori and Pasifika populations, which were already more likely to experience harm from gambling, she said.

"Māori and Pacific communities are generally more community focused than a lot of Pākehā and so people in these populations who may be transitioning to more harmful gambling behaviours have a much higher risk of transitioning out of those community contributions.

"This is important because Māori and Pacific people are disadvantaged by gambling harms anyway and they are much more likely to experience gambling harms than the general population, so now we could be compounding this with community-level harms."

Aside from community withdrawal, the study highlighted associations between those who became problem gamblers and poor health, Bellringer said.

"They were more likely to be continuous smokers, they were likely to continue a poor quality of life so they started with a poor quality of life and it stayed poor.

"They were more likely to start experiencing more stressful life events such as losing a job, developing poorer health, divorce, those sorts of things. This transition into problem gambling was also associated with increased deprivation."

The flipside was those who transitioned away from problem gambling experienced improved health, she said.

"They were also likely to transition out of drinking alcohol in a hazardous manner, or excessively, and subsequently were more likely to increase their quality of life."

The study added to the basket of public health knowledge and would be helpful in gambling harm prevention and assistance, she said.

'New Zealand National Gambling Study: Correspondence between changes in gambling and gambling risk levels and health', was conducted by the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre and the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at AUT.

A full version of the report is available on the Ministry of Health website.

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