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Impulsiveness In Kids Linked To Later Gambling Addiction


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Kids who were inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive in kindergarten, are more likely to develop symptoms of risky gambling behavior by the time they reach middle school, reports a new Canadian study in the latest issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Impulsiveness has always been associated with many problems, such as delinquency, expulsion from school, substance abuse, anti-social behavior, unemployment, addiction problems in adulthood and now there is another issue that has been added to the list, the researchers said. There is something that connects both the impulsivity and the gambling, said main author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a professor at Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the University of Montreal. "In adulthood, problem gambling is considered an impulse disorder," she added.

To come up with this conclusion, Pagani and her colleagues surveyed more than 160 kindergarten children, and asked their teachers to fill-in questionnaires at the beginning of the school year where they had to rank the students' inattentiveness, distractibility and hyperactivity on a scale of 1 to 9. Six years later, when the average age of kids was 11.5 years and they were attending the 6th grade, the researchers asked them in telephone interviews how often they took part in gambling-related activities, such as playing cards or bingo for money, buying lottery tickets, playing video games or video poker for money, or placing bets on sport events or just with friends.

After considering factors such as family composition, education and social status of parents, household income, as well as parental gambling, the experts found that for an increase of each unit on the impulsivity scale in kindergarten, there was a 25 per cent higher risk in gambling activity by the sixth grade.

The children in the study were not children with any kind of a learning problem, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Pagani said. All of them were typically developing kids. The expert said that nearly 15 per cent of all kids have problems with impulsiveness, particularly boys, and suggested that the best way to avoid future problems is to improve their attention at an early age. Detecting as soon as possible as to which kids are headed for trouble can be beneficial in many ways.

When kids are very young, they can be taught "effortful control," in which case a child makes an effort to focus and concentrate , Pagani said. "We can eliminate attention problems by the use of intervention programs that help children develop attention," she said. "If we can improve their attention by one unit, then we can improve their outcomes by 25 per cent."

Additionally, it can also help some families to become wiser, if the issues with impulsivity in their kids are addressed early. For example, some of the parents of the children who participated in the study, considered that a little gambling as not a big deal, and some of them even bought lottery tickets for their offspring as a reward for good behavior. That is, definitely, a completely wrong thing to do. Scratch-and-win games must be used just by adults, Pagani says with confidence.

Pagani and her team plan to continue the follow-up study with the kids in their survey in another 6 years, by the time when the children will be about to finish high-school and start to prepare for the modern world with its possible temptations. Even if these kids were born too late to benefit from her findings, the scientist is sure that other children will.

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