The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)


Gambling is an activity where people risk money or something of value on the outcome of a game involving chance, such as scratchcards, fruit machines, poker, lotteries and betting on horse or football accumulators. In return for placing a bet, gamblers receive the prize (if they win) or lose the stake. The practice of gambling has been linked to a range of psychological and social harms including addiction, mental illness, family problems, financial difficulties, and criminal activity.

Despite this, many people continue to engage in gambling and are influenced by the marketing of gambling products by government, commercial and social media. For example, sports betting is heavily promoted to adolescents on Twitter and other social media platforms (Smith et al. 2019). Moreover, people who use social media often share gambling ads with their friends and followers which increases the exposure to advertising and potentially influencing the behaviour of others.

The current understanding of the antecedents of gambling is complex and reflects a dynamic interaction between genetic risks, family history of gambling and environmental influences in late adolescence and early adulthood. A longitudinal study is required to explore these interactions in detail. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) provides a unique opportunity to examine young people’s gambling behaviour over time, given the large size of the cohort and demographic and environmental information available on participants.

The ALSPAC cohort was first recruited at age 17 years and completed three gambling surveys at ages 20 and 24 years. Due to high attrition in the ALSPAC cohort, only 1672 participants (1096 females and 576 males) answered all three gambling surveys and were classified as gamblers. This is a substantial loss to follow-up and results in attrition bias. However, multiple imputation techniques were used to minimise the impact of missing data on analyses, and it is likely that gamblers identified at both ages were representative of the full sample.

Young people who reported gambling regularly at age 17 years and at age 20 years were more likely to be male, have hyperactivity and conduct problems, and have a higher sensation seeking score. They were also more likely to be unemployed/not in education, smoke and drink alcohol weekly, and have mothers with lower educational qualifications. In addition, they were more likely to be exposed to gambling marketing on social media and to have been influenced by the gambling habits of their parents.

People may gamble as a way to self-soothe unpleasant feelings or to unwind. However, there are healthier and more effective ways to relieve boredom and stress, such as exercising, spending time with non-gambling friends, or practicing relaxation techniques. In addition, it is important to only gamble with disposable income and not money that needs to be saved for bills or rent. It is also important to understand that you will most likely lose more than you win, so you should expect to lose and not be disappointed if you do.