- Pathological Gambling College Students' Perceived Social Support
Attending college is a developmental period that represents a transition from adolescence to full-fledged adulthood. During this period of emerging adulthood, independence and recreational opportunities increase dramatically and problem behaviors may emerge. Gambling is one recreational activity that may develop into a problem behavior, especially given that the availability of gambling has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Currently, gambling is legal in every U.S. state except two—Utah and Hawaii. Legal forms of gambling include bingo, lotteries, horse racing, and casino games (if the individual is of age—18 or 21 years old depending upon the jurisdiction and game). Moreover, Internet gambling, although mostly illegal, is easily accessible with over 2,500 online gambling websites (Stewart, 2006).
Approximately 40% to 80% of college students have gambled within the last year (LaBrie, Shaffer, LaPlante, & Wechsler, 2003; Weinstock, Whelan, Meyers, & Watson, 2007; Winters, Bengston, Dorr, & Stinchfield, 1998). College students frequently report gambling for social and recreational reasons such as "to have a good time," "to be with friends," and "to compete with friends" (Neighbors, Lostutter, Cronce, & Larimer, 2002). However, a significant portion of college students gamble to such an extent that they meet diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling, a psychiatric disorder. Lifetime prevalence of this disorder is estimated at 5% in college students (Shaffer, Hall, & Vander Bilt, 1999).
Pathological gambling is characterized as "persistent and maladaptive gambling behavior" (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994, p. 615), and the disorder in college students is associated with poor academic performance, impulsivity, and engagement in other risky behaviors such as illicit drug use (Engwall, Hunter, & Steinberg, 2004; Skitch & Hodgins, 2004; Winters et al., 1998). Longitudinal studies suggest college students transition in and out of gambling problems over time as they move into full-fledged adulthood and that a history of problem gambling is highly predictive of future gambling problems (Slutske, Jackson, & Sher, 2003; Winters, Stinchfield, Slutske, & Bozet, 2005). Thus, pathological gambling is a problem behavior with potential for far reaching consequences well beyond the college years.
Social support has received much attention as both a risk factor for, and a protective factor against, problem behaviors. It is conceptualized as an accessible social network that provides psychological and material assistance (Cohen, 2004). Social support can act as a buffer during periods of stress and negative life events. For example, Hussong, Hicks, Levy, and Curran [End Page 625] (2001) found college students with lower social support were more likely to engage in drinking after a negative event than were peers with elevated social support. In addition, social support offers a set of connections to others that can exert positive peer pressure and social controls over behavior. For instance, Jessor, Costa, Krueger, and Turbin (2006) found social controls against problem behaviors, such as friends' disproval, to be a significant protective factor against engaging in binge drinking in college students. Together these studies demonstrate the importance of social support and its influence on the development and maintenance of problem behaviors.
Thus far, the relationship between social support and pathological gambling has received little attention. In a sample of Canadian adolescents (grades 7-13), Hardoon and colleagues (2004) found lower perceived social support was associated with pathological gambling. As of yet, no published studies have investigated the relationship between social support and pathological gambling specifically in college students.
Therefore, this study seeks to rectify the lack of information regarding the relationship between social support and pathological gambling in college students. Consistent with previous literature on social support and problem behaviors, we hypothesize that social support will be lower in pathological gamblers than nonpathological gamblers.
Participants (N = 1,007) were undergraduate students recruited in classroom settings, near the cafeterias, and during general screenings at a public university campus in the northeast United States between March 2005 and May 2006. Overall, the sample was 61.7% female and 38.3% male, and the average age was 21.4 (SD = 4.7). The sample was 62.1% Caucasian, 19.8% African-American, and 9.0% Hispanic, and the remaining 9.1% endorsed another ethnic background.
Overall, 89.1% of the sample reported...