While the vast majority of college students who are of legal age to gamble do so responsibly, the most recent research estimates that 6 percent of college students in the U.S. have a serious gambling problem that can result in psychological difficulties, unmanageable debt and failing grades. Students who admit to having a problem sometimes find a lack of support on campus.
Most college students are able to make responsible decisions about gambling, but for some, gambling can turn into a serious problem. Having problems as a result of gambling doesn’t mean a college student necessarily has a gambling disorder but could signal future problems.
Gambling disorder can be associated with numerous negative consequences and are highly correlated with other risky behaviors. Students who use tobacco, drink heavily or binge drink, smoke marijuana or use other illegal drugs, drive under the influence or have a low GPA are more likely to gamble.
Comorbidity is the term used to describe the existence of concurrent disorders in an individual. It also refers to the ways in which these disorders interact or interfere with each other. For example, there are different medical implications and treatment possibilities for a person with high blood pressure and diabetes than for a person with only one of those conditions.
As with all addictive behaviors, people who struggle with gambling problems tend to have other psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, and other addictive disorders such as substance-use disorders. The existence of “comorbid” disorders with disordered gambling makes it difficult to determine whether excessive gambling causes a gambling disorder or other disorders cause excessive gambling. Or, do the concurrent disorders suggest an underlying addiction syndrome? Understanding these relationships can provide a better understanding of the factors that cause gambling problems, as well as strategies for resolving the disorder. Although the field of research on gambling disorders is young, recent research continues to confirm the relationship between pathological gambling and substance-use disorders, citing high rates of their co-occurrence in many different types of studies.
If a student is physically injured or racks up debt because of alcohol abuse or excessive gambling, colleges and universities could face liability issues. Consult with your school’s general counsel about these issues. The compliance of college and university students with local, state, and federal laws concerning illegal gambling activities should be enforced and addressed through collaborative ventures among campus and local law enforcement agencies and campus administrators.
Despite the challenges of being in the vanguard, addressing this potential issue proactively, rather than playing catch-up, will only strengthen a school’s ability to maintain a healthy student body.