Canadian Researchers Find Link between Problem Gambling and Depression

Frederic Dussault of the University of Quebec at Montreal published a study recently which suggested that problem gambling and depression have a high correspondence. Previous studies have shown how problem gambling can ruin the health of gamblers, in addition to obvious drawbacks like less money in the bank account and strained relations with family members and loved ones.

Dussault’s research in many ways goes to the heart of why people fall into addictions in general, whether it is compulsive gambling, drinking, or drug use. In doing so, the Montreal study breaks down arguments which blame gambling for a person’s problems, by pointing to the fact addictions exist in people who are trying to fill a void or forget themselves.

Researching Since 1984

Writing in the Journal of Gambling Studies, Dr. Dussault cited data he had been collecting since 1984. Dussault studied young men in their late-teens to the early-twenties. It long had been known that boys and young men with high impulsivity are prone to compulsive gambling. That makes sense and would not be likely to surprise many people. But Dussault’s research indicates that depression and problem gambling goes hand-in-hand, though.

The French-Canadian researcher began studying 1,100 kindergarten-age boys living in Quebec in 1984. He measured their family background, the quality of their relationships, and their impulsivity. When they were 17, 23, and 28, Dussault would ask them questions about their amount of gambling activities and their level of depression.

Scope of the Study

In all, Frederic Dussault had enough complete responses that he could cite 878 young men. He found that 73% of the men who reported gambling addiction also reported depression. That is a much higher rate than what is evident among the general population.

The incidence of depression seems to develop alongside chronic gambling habits. Furthermore, the compulsive gaming and the depression grow more severe over time. Some behavioral issues in young men tend to decrease over time, as the men reach their late-20s. Studies have shown that the human brain is not fully developed until age 25, so it seems natural that bad behaviors like vandalism and violence decrease as a young man reaches his late-20s.

Why Gambling Problems Exist

The same cannot be said of chronic gambling, says Dussault. Researchers discussed reasons why this might be and some of their theories could be controversial in the gambling media–and are certain to be used by anti-gambling advocates in the future. Dr. Dussault and his colleagues believe the lack of behavior modification might be related to the lack of illegality. Actions like vandalism and violence are illegal, so a maturing man is likelier to see the consequences if he continues to destroy property or attack other people. Gambling is legal in most jurisdictions, so even a maturing person might not be as likely to reason through the consequences in the heat of the moment.

Instead, problem gambling takes on the telltale characteristics of addictive behavior, with all of the facets of out-of-control behavior. Dussault said, “Gambling problems may be more a personal problem similar to an addiction: once acquired, they are difficult to get rid of.”

Dussault’s Conclusions

Frederic Dussault concludes that treatment of gambling addiction, at least in 73% of the cases, should be done alongside treatment of addiction. He suggested that treating problem gambling without dealing with underlying mental health issues like depression is not going to solve the problem for the player.

Related Issues

The researchers found that impulsiveness in youth is correlated to gambling problems and depression later in life. Impulse control problems also lead to lifelong issues in “friendship quality”, as well as lingering issues described as “socio-family risk”. The term socio-family risk includes factors like divorce, teen parenthood, and poverty.

The doctors also theorized that lingering problems with one’s parents leads to a higher incidence of depression. In other words, so many of the problems in life come back to one’s childhood. Inability to reconcile these problems in adulthood can lead to a whole range of consequences, not just in gambling habits, but also in lingering mental health issues and general dysfunction in one’s daily life.

Therapy Helps End Addiction

Several psychological theories, such as Dr. Robert Firestone‘s voice therapy, suggest that people learn coping mechanisms in childhood to deal with angst, dysfunction, and bad parenting. Children tend to idealize parents, even when that parent is abusive or neglectful. Even a “good enough” parent is imperfect, so most children deal with a certain amount of avoidable disappointment and dysfunction in their childhoods.

Idealizing an unworthy parent leads to self-loathing, because the child understands something is not right and must blame someone. In lieu of anyone else to blame, they blame themselves. This kind of self-loathing leads to a psychological dichotomy, where the person subconsiously punishes himself or herself for perceived flaws. Escapist coping mechanisms which worked in childhood become maladaptive in adulthood.

As an adult, the same person often seeks to escape dealing with their self-loathing by filling the void with alcohol, drugs, gambling addiction, poor choices in friendships, codependent relationships, bad marriages, and a variety of other substitutes. Therapy helps a person reconcile their flawed childhood with the imperfect adult they see themselves as. This helps combat depression and other mental health concerns, while helping a person overcome behavioral issues like gambling addiction. Mental wellness helps one escape the cycle of addiction.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on,, and

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