Study Finds Surprising Relationship Between Prescription Drug Misuse And Problem Gambling

Addiction researchers have found associations between numerous addictive behaviors, with individuals often being involved with many addictive substances and behaviors at the same time. Though this relationship is common, it is not well understood. The intermingling relationships of less thoroughly studied addictive behaviors, such as gambling and prescription drug misuse (PDM), are particularly unclear. A recent study led by Cheryl Currie, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alberta, Canada, was published in theCanadian Journal of Psychiatryand explores the relationship between prescription drug misuse, demographics and addictive behaviors including gambling (Currie, Schopflocher, & Wild, 2011). Currie won the Outstanding Poster Award at the 2010 NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction, and discussed early findings from this study with us in anaudio interviewconducted at the conference.

The researchers surveyed a representative sample of 3,511 adults living in Alberta, Canada, about their PDM, illicit drug and alcohol use and abuse, tobacco use, gambling behavior and demographics. They found that 8.2 percent of Albertans had misused a prescription drug in the previous 12 months, and the strongest demographic predictors for PDM were disabled status, younger age, and high school graduates with no college experience. These correlations are not unexpected, as younger people use more illicit drugs generally, and disabled persons use more prescription drugs than adults generally (e.g. to control pain). What was not expected was the strong relationship between PDM and problem gambling.

After disabled status, problem gambling was the second strongest predictor for PDM, with problem gamblers misusing prescription drugs three times more often than others. This finding is unexpected because PDM is a form of substance abuse, and it would be logical to assume that people who misuse prescription drugs might also abuse other substances like alcohol or cannabis. In fact, alcohol and cannabis dependenceismore common in people with past-12-month PDM, but gambling is the most common addictive predictor of PDM in this study.

Since the relationship between gambling and PDM has not yet been comprehensively examined, there is no way of knowing how or why the two behaviors interact. The authors suggest that problem gamblers may be misusing prescription drugs to “cope with gambling losses, deal with gambling urges, to stay awake while gambling, or they may engage in both PDM and gambling to escape other life stressors,” (Currie et al., 2011, p. 32). Certainly this surprising finding deserves more research attention as the complex relationships between addictive disorders are further explored.

More information on the article is available onthe journal’s website, and the full interview with Cheryl Currie can be heard on theGambling Disorders 360 post from November 15th. Are you surprised by these findings? Let us know in the Comments section below.


Currie, C. L., Schopflocher, D. P., & Wild, T. C. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of 12-month prescription drug misuse in alberta.Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie,56(1), 27-34.

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