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The importance of the relationship between negative affect and choice or control over gambling behaviors parallels its central role not only in understanding other addictive behaviors, but also in developmental models of self-regulation (Diaz & Fruhauf, 1991). If there is evidence that negative mood states drive impaired control over gambling then it is predicted that two main variables may moderate this relationship, namely social support and styles of coping. Both these variables have been implicated in the recovery paths of treated alcoholics as they recover/retain control over drinking (Moos, Finney & Cronkite, 1990). Problem-orientated styles of coping are generally found to be protective in a wide range of potentially stressful situations from childbirth to the restructuring of industries (Ruffin, 1993). Most recently, for a large group of women gaming-machine players Quirk (1996) found that a preference for emotion focused over problem-orientated coping strategies (Vitaliano et al., 1985) was strongly associated with greater impaired control as measured by the Scale of Gambling Choices (SGC) (Baron et al., 1996). Social support, particularly with regard to the main intimate relationship or spouse, has been identified as a key component in the development of gambling-related problems in all survey studies completed in Australia (Productivity Commission, 1999).
Links between personality characteristics and problem/pathological gambling may also be transformed by research focusing on regular players. Typically the amount of variance in common between personality scores and Pathological Gambling is small (e.g. Steel & Blaszczynski, 1996; Blaszczynski, Steel & McConaghy, 1997; Blaszczynski, 1998). The variance in common between similar personality characteristics and the actual gambling behavior of regular players may be much larger and may be more rigorously examined prospectively or even experimentally. The seminal work of Anderson & Brown (1984) remains the best illustration of this, showing in an experimental and observational study that the really significant relationship between sensation-seeking and gaming only appeared for the regular players in the actual casino setting.
Traditional propositions involving sensation-seeking (Zuckerman, 1979) have not been supported (Blaszczynski, Wilson & McConaghy, 1986; Dickerson, Hinchy & Fabre, 1987; Blaszczynski, McConaghy & Frankova, 1990) but recent work has suggested that either impulsivity (Blaszczynski & Steel, 1998; Blaszczynski, Steel & McConaghy, 1997) or a modified version of the original sensation-seeking hypothesis (Coventry & Brown, 1993; Coventry & Norman, 1997; Breen & Zuckerman, 1999) may prove fruitful research directions. In addition, personality may play a crucial role in the psychological modeling of the different forms of gaming and wagering and in hypothetical pathways towards problem gambling (Blaszczynski, 1996). Earlier studies have provided some suggestions of interactions between the experience of excitement during a session of betting and personality type (Dickerson, Hinchy & Fabre, 1987).
One notable absentee from the predictor variables in the research schema is alcohol consumption by gamblers. When conceptualized in terms of pathology this nexus of popular leisure habits has been called dual or co-dependency and research has progressed little further than demonstrating from clinical populations that a proportion satisfy diagnostic criteria for Pathological Gambling and Substance Abuse (e.g. McCormick et al., 1984; Lesieur & Blume, 1987). Surveys of the general population in New Zealand, Australia and Spain have found an association between levels of self-reported gambling-related problems and at-risk levels of alcohol consumption (Abbott & Volberg, 1992; Becona, 1992; Dickerson et al., 1996, respectively). Most recently research on video lottery terminal (vlt) problem players found that although 35% reported that they had played when they had drunk too much, 24% reported that they usually drank less alcohol during a session of play (Schellink & Schrans, 1998). (In the jurisdiction where the research was completed the gambling venues were bars licensed to sell alcohol.)
Two recent studies with regular players who also drink alcohol provide evidence of the powerful and complex way in which alcohol may interact with the psychological processes that maintain self-control of gambling behavior. An experimental study of young male egm players who also regularly drank alcohol found that the experimental group who had a prior intake of three standard drinks (Pols & Hawks, 1991) persisted at gaming twice as long when losing than the control placebo group (Kyngdon & Dickerson, 1999). In addition, in the placebo group, prior depressed mood was a significant positive predictor of persistence and the personality variables of extraversion and sensation-seeking were significant, strong negative correlates of persistence. In the alcohol group none of these individual differences were correlated at all with persistence.
Alcohol use has also been shown to erode a regular player's control over the decision to start a session of gaming machine play. A survey study of electronic gaming machine (egm) players while playing and drinking in hotels found that one in eight players, despite making a decision not to play prior to entering the hotel, began their current session of play after drinking at least two standard drinks (Baron & Dickerson, 1999). Self-control over other forms of gambling have also been shown to be influenced by the player's consumption of alcohol. After drinking alcohol the decision to buy a lottery ticket is more likely (Sjoberg, 1969) and chasing behavior is more commonly reported by off-course gamblers who drink alcohol while betting (O'Connor, Dickerson & Phillips, 1995).
These results challenge the relevance of conceptualizing the research in terms of dual addictions. A relatively small consumption of alcohol (2-3standard drinks) may have a very significant effect on the gambling per se and on the associated cognitive and personality processes as they relate to self-control. From both a theoretical as well as a social policy perspective further research in this area is urgently needed.
This approach to the psychological study of gambling is simply a result of the use of Occam's razor to remove the idea of pathological and harmful impacts of gambling such as crime where the causal links to gambling behavior remain obscure (Blaszczynski & McConaghy, 1994). If such an approach results in a greater focus of research energy on regular players in realistic gambling environments, it is likely that the much greater significance of immediate, proximal determinants that combine to erode control over gambling behavior will emerge. It can be seen that immediate gambling cues associated with the strict temporal sequence of gaming and betting, the immediately experienced negative emotion and/or excitement and, most recently, alcohol use immediately prior to gambling, all generate significant effects on gambling behavior. It seems likely that the contemporary emphasis given to cognitive and cognitive-behavioral variables (e.g. Walker, 1992a, 1992b; Coventry & Constable 1999) may have arisen because the research focus within the frame of reference of pathological and problem gambling has been on the retrospective reports of those seeking help, combined with the very worthwhile concern to develop cognitive-behavioral models as a basis for effective interventions (e.g. Sharpe & Tarrier, 1993; Sharpe et al., 1995; Blaszczynski, 1998).
- Dickerson, Mark, Baron, Ellen; Contemporary issues and future directions for research into pathological gambling; Addiction, Aug2000, Vol. 95, Issue 8
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