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Gambling in youth has link to sexual behavior

Youth who gamble are more at risk for gambling problems and early sexual activity, according to new research involving African American youth in Baltimore.

As the city is poised to open its first major casino, researchers from Columbia University joined those from Johns Hopkins in questioning kids in late adolescence about their behavior. The study of 427 youths is online in Addictive Behaviors.

The researchers found that almost half had gambled before age 18 and more of the gamblers had initiated sex in that time. About a third had intercourse by age 13 and almost 90 percent had by age 18. Nine percent of the sexually active youth had ever had a sexually transmitted disease.

Of those who had gambled, close to half were frequent gamblers.

The findings complement other studies that showed a link between gambling and early sexual behavior, but the study participants were predominantly white, said Dr. Silvia Martins, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia and first author on the study, in a statement.

“Despite evidence that problem gambling is more prevalent among African-American adolescents and adults, few adolescent studies included a large subgroup of African Americans in their samples,” she said. “This study also goes above and beyond prior research as it shows that gambling youth are not only at risk of gambling problems, which are associated with numerous adverse interpersonal, financial, criminal, and psychiatric consequences, but also at risk for sex-related behaviors such as adolescent pregnancy/impregnation.”

Martins is advocating for existing prevention programs to include gambling.

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