Gambling And Compulsive Alcohol Use Among College Students: Further Evidence Of Links

TheTask Force on College Gambling Policiesissued a report in 2009 recommending that student health professionals screen for gambling problems among students engaged in risky behaviors. Since the release of this report, new research has been published that provides evidence that a single question can open up information about risky behaviors.

For example, alcohol use by college students – and binge drinking in particular – has been associated with a range of risky behaviors, including gambling. A new study published in theAmerican Journal on Addictionsprovides further evidence of this link by focusing on thequalityof drinking behavior rather than on thequantityof alcohol consumed , which is the typical measure used by researchers to identify students at risk for alcohol-related problems (Pedrelli et al., 2010). Specifically, this study examined compulsive drinking, described as “persistent thoughts about alcohol, inability to control alcohol consumption, and a compulsive drive to consume alcohol” (Pedrelli et al., 2010, p. 15). The authors of the study hypothesized that this behavior would be associated with an increased likelihood of substance use, unsafe sex and gambling.

The 904 study participants were undergraduates at three universities in various regions who were predominantly female (54.8 percent), Caucasian (57.1 percent) and living on campus (39.5 percent). They were asked questions from the Consumptive Habits Questionnaire (Guidi et al., 2009). One question asked respondents to report on whether they engaged in a number of risky behaviors, including compulsive use of street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and caffeine and activities such as compulsive gambling.

Both females and males who reported compulsive alcohol use were at a greater risk for risky behaviors. However, while males in this group were more likely to gamble, there was no statistically significant association in females between compulsive drinking and gambling.

The authors offered several possible reasons for the link between compulsive drinking and risky behaviors: the pharmacological effect of alcohol and drugs in lifting inhibitions; the possibility that problematic behaviors share a biological foundation; shared personality traits such as sensation-seeking and impulsivity; and that students who report compulsive drinking might be more at ease reporting on other risky behaviors.

The practical implications of these findings suggest that researchers can identify the risky behaviors with a single question, which bodes well for enabling college student health professionals to identify potentially problematic behaviors. The authors explained, “In light of the limited resources available on college campuses overall, and in particular in settings where screening can be conducted such as at health centers, asking about compulsive drinking may represent a helpful strategy to identify high-risk college students” (Pedrelli et al., 2010, p.19).


Guidi, J., Pender, M., Hollon, S.D., et al. (2009). The prevalence of compulsive eating and exercise among college students: An exploratory study.Psychiatry Research, 165, 154-162.

Pedrelli, P., Bitran, S., Shyu, I., Baer, L., Guidi, J., Tucker, D. D., et al. (2010). Compulsive alcohol use and other high-risk behaviors among college students.American Journal on Addictions, 20(1), 14-20.

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