The WAGER, Vol. 17(6) – Fun with Friends: The influence of social networks on gambling problems


Researchers increasingly have become interested to investigate the environmental and social factors surrounding those with addiction. One of the tools used in this investigation is social network analysis (SNA). Fundamentally, SNA rests upon the assumption that the people a person interacts with regularly can influence that person’s behaviors and attitudes. SNA has been applied extensively to alcohol use and smoking (e.g., Christakis & Fowler, 2008), but it has not been applied to gambling behavior until now. This week’s WAGER reviews the first attempt to apply SNA to gambling behavior and related problems (Fortune, MacKillop, Miller, Campbell, Clifton & Goodie, 2012). 


  • Researchers used newspaper advertisements to recruit 128 participants from Athens, Georgia who reported gambling at least once a week.
  • An interviewer guided participants through a questionnaire. This questionnaire included the Diagnostic Interview for Gambling Severity (DIGS; Winters, Specker & Stinchfield, 1997), which assesses DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling.
  • Participants also estimated gambling frequency and expenditure for their parents, siblings, and five of their closest friends. Researchers also asked participants to indicate their confidence in these estimates, and only used estimates in which participants indicated some confidence. (On average, participants were confident in their estimates: M=2.5 on a 1 [no confidence] to 3 [high confidence] scale.)  


  • Researchers found a significant positive correlation between participants’ DIGS scores and their estimations of friends’ gambling frequency (r = .31, p < .001) and expenditure (r = .30, p < .001).
  • Among biological relatives, the only significant relationship was between DIGS scores and estimated gambling frequency for the fathers (r = .30, p < .05).

Table 1: Correlation coefficients between participants’ DIGS score and gambling frequency and expenditure for different social network members.
WAGER 17(6) Table 1

*p < .05
** p < .001 


  • The study is purely correlational; it cannot tell us whether people with gambling problems tend to find like-minded friends, or whether having gambling friends influenced PG symptoms.
  • The study relies entirely on participant’s perceptions of how others behave. It is possible that the study measures how participants’ perceptions of their friends’ gambling behavior varies as a function of participant DIGS score, not how their friends’ actual behavior varies.
  • The “friend” category was relatively heterogeneous, containing significant others, non-first degree biological relatives (e.g., uncles and aunts), among others. There was no measure of the strength of the relationship, or how often they interacted. 


This study provides a first investigation of the association between social networks and gambling problems. While the study found that gambling-related problems are correlated with the projected gambling behavior of friends, it is important to note that this study relies entirely on participants’ projections and assumptions about their friends’ behavior. This makes it impossible to isolate participants’ perceptions from their friends’ actual behavior. Traditionally, SNA utilizes objective data gathered directly from a participant’s friends and family (Christakis & Fowler, 2008),. Further studies need to use rigorous SNA to address the major limitations and gaps in knowledge and create a more thorough understanding of how interactions with other people might influence gambling behaviors and problems. 

-Daniel Tao

What do you think? Please use the comment link below to provide feedback on this article. 


Christakis, N.A., Fowler, J.H. (2008). The collective dynamics of smoking in a large social network. The New England Journal of Medicine, 358, 2249-2258.

Fortune, E.E., MacKillop, J., Miller, J.D., Campbell, W.K., Clifton, A.D., Goodie, A.S. (2012). Social density of gambling and its association with gambling problems: An initial investigation. Journal of Gambling Studies, Online First. DOI:10.1007/s10899-012-9303-3.

Winters, K.C., Specker, S., Stinchfield, R.D. (1997). Diagnostic Interview for Gambling Severity (DIGS). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 

2 thoughts on “The WAGER, Vol. 17(6) – Fun with Friends: The influence of social networks on gambling problems

  1. Ubertomondolfi Reply

    Great article!

  2. Susan May Reply

    How about a survey from the problem gambler perspective and how the advertisements and friend relationships introduced them to gambling? What drew them and what kept them going and the downward progression from there. Asking what they now recognize as the symptoms of the downward progression and what would help a person go for and get help to control this addiction and it’s urges.
    Maybe you have already done this, this is the 1st time I have come across your site. If there was a previous survey on this (especially for Las Vegas and Indiana), I would love to see the responses.

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