Problematic alcohol use and problem gambling: Associations to structural and functional aspects of social ties in a Finnish population sample


AIMS – This study aims to explore associations between structural and functional aspects of social networks and relationships (here labelled social ties) among individuals exhibiting problematic alcohol use and problem gambling, respectively.

MATERIAL & METHODS – Data was collected in the 2011 Western Finland Mental Health Survey, a postal questionnaire survey applying a stratified random sampling approach. The survey response rate was 46.2% (n = 4624, age range 15–80 years). Problem behaviours were assessed using the CAGE and Lie/Bet tools. Logistic regression analyses were performed, with problematic alcohol use and problem gambling as dependent variables. Demographic variables, structural social tie factors (marital status, frequency of social contacts, engagement in association activities) and functional social tie factors (experienced loneliness, social support, neighbourhood trust, general trust) constituted explanatory variables.

RESULTS – In this representative population sample, only one structural social tie variable, marital status, proved to be significantly associated with one of the outcomes (problematic alcohol use). Identical functional social tie variables were associated with both problematic alcohol use and problem gambling: individuals exhibiting the problem behaviours experienced higher levels of experienced loneliness and low levels of neighbourhood trust. Identified interaction effects with demographic factors highlight the complexity of links.

CONCLUSIONS – Functional aspects of individual-level social ties appear to be more relevant when studying problematic alcohol use or problem gambling, similarly to other forms of mental health problems. The role of social ties as preventive or risk factors for problem behaviour development, as a part of problem behaviour maintenance or as a cessation and a recovery resource should be further explored, considering also interactions with demographic variables.

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