Autistic traits in young adults who gamble

CNS Spectr. 2020 Jul 9;21(6):1-6. doi: 10.1017/S1092852920001571. Online ahead of print.


Background.: Little is known about the relationship between autistic traits and addictive behaviors such as problem gambling. Thus, the present study examined clinical characteristics and multiple facets of cognition in young adults who gamble and have autistic traits.

Methods.: A total of 102 young adults who gamble were recruited from two Mid-Western university communities in the United States using media advertisements. Autistic traits were examined using the brief Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ-10). Clinician rating scales, questionnaires, and cognitive tests were completed. Relationships between AQ10 scores and demographic, gambling symptom, and neurocognitive measures were evaluated.

Results.: Autistic traits were correlated with disordered gambling symptoms, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, trait impulsivity, and some types of obsessive-compulsive symptoms. In regression, ADHD no longer significantly related to autistic traits once disordered gambling symptoms were accounted for; whereas the link between autistic traits and disordered gambling symptoms was robust even controlling for ADHD.

Conclusions.: These data suggest a particularly strong relationship between autistic traits and problem gambling symptoms, as well as certain aspects of impulsivity and compulsivity. The link between ADHD and autistic traits in some prior studies may have been attributable to disordered gambling symptoms, which was likely not screened for, and since individuals may endorse ADHD instruments due to other impulsive/compulsive symptom types (eg, gambling). The contribution of autistic traits to the emergence and chronicity of disordered gambling now requires further scrutiny, not only in community samples (such as this) but also in clinical settings.

Keywords: ADHD; Impulsivity; autism; compulsivity; gambling.