Whereas some American children grow up behind the proverbial white picket fence, some are a bit more worldy. Some kids love to run, and some love to run the numbers. Suprisingly, as many as one 10 adolescent boys in the United States has a gambling habit, with half as many girls betting frequently on games of chance. Now, researchers are saying that adolescents who gamble tend to exhibit signs of a set of behaviors known as "conduct disorder."

Adolescents who gamble are "highly likely" to engage in antisocial conduct such as lying, stealing, substance abuse, and violence toward people and animals — but also any repetitive behaviors violating the social norm. Although past studies had examined primarily white populations, researchers from Johns Hopkins University looked at several hundred African American students in nine primary schools in Baltimore. "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," Martins told reporters.

Nearly half the Baltimore kids in the study had gambled at least once by the age of 18, with nearly a quarter gambling frequently. Those precocious gamblers were also more likely to lose their virginity at a younger age, with 89 percent getting some by age 18. Even more alarming, 35 percent of those children had initiated sex by age 18, with 9 percent of all gambling students also scoring a sexually transmitted infection.

Martins and her colleagues also found that 13-year-old gamblers were more likely to face pregnancy, even compared to other kids scoring high on tests of impulsivity. The connection also held after considering such possibly confounding factors as demographics, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse.

"Our findings are complementary to earlier studies that showed an association between gambling with an earlier age of onset of sexual activities, however, participants in these samples were predominantly white," Martins said.

For the record, gambling rates were equally high among U.S. adolescents of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, with all sorts of kids throwing dice, playing cards, and placing bets not only on sporting events but personal feats of skill a la MTV's "Jackass." For adolescents of all backgrounds, policymakers should expand social programs to address problems with gambling, the researchers said.

 

Source: Martins, Silvia S., Lee, Grace P., Kim, June H., Letourneau, Elizabeth J., Storr, Carla L. Gambling And Sexual Behaviors In African-American Adolescents. Addictive Behaviors. 2014.