Gambling and Its Association With Suicide in Young Adults

It's tough to fight the urge to gamble while visiting Las Vegas, or play a poker game on a Friday night with friends. But when it becomes too much, however, gambling can lead to serious problems.

A new study by the University of Glasgow and the University of London suggests suicide risks heighten in young adults who gamble severely. Published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, researchers say young adults between the age of 16 to 24 who gamble heavily were 2.74 times more likely to be linked with suicide risks than those who didn't.

Gambling can quickly lead to an addiction, and the study suggests any heightened behavior in gambling was linked with a larger risk of suicide attempts. Although some studies delved into the association between gambling and suicidality, few have investigated the link between young adults and increased gambling activity. Gambling addiction can bring impulsive and disorderly behaviors. From financial loss to mental health complications, gambling addiction is a serious disorder that can take a huge toll on your life.

The study gathered 1,941 young adults and recorded their responses twice yearly (between June to August 2019 and July to October 2020) to scrutinize their gambling habits and suicide-linked actions. The team used the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score, where zero refers to non-gamblers with a maximum of 27 points.

Over the course of a year, the PGSI score increased by only one point or more, linked with a heightened risk of a suicide attempt. Compared to older adults, young adults are more vulnerable to risks, such as impulsive actions and thrilling activities. Although certain factors, including anxious symptoms, loneliness, poor mental health, and spontaneity, may contribute to the heightened risk of gambling and suicide attempts, they cannot fully explain the link.

The study suggests that it is crucial to rapidly locate those who regularly gamble and provide the necessary help. Some help may mean accessible primary health care, social care, or public service organizations to allow those at risk to get the needed help.

More research is still needed to study which interventions could be most beneficial for those in risky gambling behaviors. While the government does provide some limitations for those who seem to be at risk, there need to be more explicit guidelines on gambling to minimize harmful risks and consequences. The study suggests all industry staff that deals with customer service should receive consistent training to help those in need.

"Suicide is a leading cause of death among young adults, especially young men. When we speak to people who have experienced severe gambling harm, many describe feeling suicidal. And yet the debate continues about whether gambling disorder is a risk factor for suicidality or if this might be better explained by other things, like poor well-being. Our study suggests not, finding that any increase in negative experiences due to gambling among young adults can mean a greater risk of suicidality,” said Heather Wardle, Ph.D., the study's first author.

Wardle concluded: "For anyone feeling like this, help is available—people can and do recover from gambling harms. But more support is needed. Our study adds to a growing evidence base strengthening the argument for gambling to be recognized as a risk factor in suicide prevention plans."

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