Effects of Neighborhood Disadvantage on Problem Gambling and Alcohol Abuse

Research and Data
Author(s): Grace M. Barnes, John W. Welte, Marie-Cecile O. Tidwell, and Joseph H. Hoffman
Year Published: 2013


This study examined the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on gambling behaviors and problems as well as on alcohol use and abuse. The study was based on a combined sample of two representative U.S. telephone surveys (2,274 14-21 year olds, and 2,631 18 years and older) of gambling and substance use.


Quantitative Data

  • Gambling in the past year is more prevalent (75%) than drinking any alcohol in the past year (60%).
  • 75% of respondents reported gambling in the past year.
    • A higher rate than drinking any alcohol (60%) in the past year.
  • Rates of gambling and drinking in the past year is consistent for both:
    • Males (81% vs. 62% respectively), and
    • Females (70% and 57% respectively).
  • Males have 2x the rate of frequent and problem gambling, and heavy drinking and alcohol abuse, than females.


Identified Risk Factors

  • Identifying as Male.
  • Identifying as a Black gambler.
  • Low socioeconomic status.
  • High neighborhood disadvantage.
  • Being age 22-40 years old.


Identified Protective Factors

  • Identifying as Black.


Qualitative Data

  • When neighborhood disadvantage was high and individual socioeconomic status was low, the highest levels of problem gambling were observed.
  • Frequent gambling and problem gambling are highest in the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) group and the greatest neighborhood disadvantage group.
    • (These same socioeconomic and neighborhood patterns do not apply to alcohol use and abuse rates which were highest among the highest SES and neighborhoods with advantageous conditions).
  • Alcohol abuse is highly prevalent for males and young people, in particular, across neighborhoods of all types.
  • Gambling and drinking are highest within the 22–30-year age group.
  • Problem gambling is highest in the 22-40 age group.
    • Alcohol use/dependance is highest in the 18-21 age group.
Identifying as Black
  • Black Americans have lower odds of being a gambler as compared with all other race/ethnic groups.
  • Of Blacks who gamble, they have higher rates of frequent gambling and problem gambling than whites/others (but lower rates of heavy drinking and alcohol abuse/dependence).



  • The findings from this study:
    • Support the hypothesis that neighborhood disadvantage significantly predicts frequent gambling and problem gambling.
    • Provides strong evidence for the effects of neighborhood ecology on the occurrence of problem gambling.
  • These problem gambling findings are consistent with:
    • The early foundations of disorganization theory as developed by Shaw and McKay (1942) such that neighborhoods with low economic indicators showed high rates of delinquency and crime.
    • The seminal work of Wilson (1987) which conceptualizes the effects of living in neighborhoods that are impoverished (poor, minority, female- only-headed households) as “concentration effects”.
  • All of the predictors of alcohol abuse are not the same as the predictors for problem gambling in the present study.
  • When individual socioeconomic status is low and neighborhood disadvantage is high, problem gambling is at the highest level.



Future research should extend neighborhood ecological research by examining social process factors in neighborhoods such as frequency and types of interactions among neighbors and types of social control such as availability of gambling and alcohol in communities.


Barnes, G. M., Welte, J. W., Tidwell, M. C., & Hoffman, J. H. (2013). Effects of Neighborhood Disadvantage on Problem Gambling and Alcohol Abuse. Journal of behavioral addictions2(2), 82–89. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.004 

Further Reading