‘It wasn’t a very encouraging environment’: Influence of early family experiences on problem and at-risk gamblers in Victoria, Australia

Abstract

Prior research suggests that at-risk and problem gamblers are more likely to have experienced early family dysfunction and exposure to gambling within the family in early childhood. However, little is known about the ways in which early childhood experiences contribute to at-risk and problem gambling in adulthood. Drawing on life history interviews with 48 participants, this article shows that the vast majority of regular gamblers in our study had been exposed to gambling as children in their family of origin. It also shows that different experiences of gambling within the early family were associated with contrasting gambling forms and risk levels in adulthood. Several at-risk and problem gamblers reported having had a parent or other family member with problematic gambling behaviour, while low-risk gamblers had experienced gambling in their early family life as purely recreational. In addition, the majority of the problem and at-risk gamblers had experienced conflicts, lack of encouragement and support, negativity, emotional distance and lack of communication in their early family life. A few also reported experiencing various forms of abuse as children. This paper shows that early exposure to problematic gambling and early family dysfunction impacted substantially on the participants' lives as adults and contributed to problem gambling.

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