Teens are at risk for gambling addiction

Adolescents are at a higher risk for developing a gambling disorder than adults. About one to two percent (or approximately 6-8 million) of American adults have the most severe form of gambling addiction. However, anywhere from two percent to seven percent of young people will become addicted to gambling. Studies have shown links between adolescent problem gambling and other problems, such as substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, mental health issues and problems at school.

The minimum age for a person to buy a lotto ticket is 18 years old (and its 21 to place a bet in a casino). However, in every classroom that I go to I ask kids how many have played a scratch off ticket or helped pick lotto numbers? I them how many have gone with family to bingo or played cards and placed with bets with friends on sports games? And as you might suspect, just about every hand goes up..every single time. Gambling is the most popular form of entertainment in the US, with approximately 85 percent of adults having gambled at some time. Most do so without any problems, but when young people gamble it occurs in more informal situations than adults, so despite age restrictions, kids are gambling with a lot more frequency then we think. A recent national study estimated that nearly 70 percent of Americans aged 14-19 years gambled in the past year and approximately 11 percent gambled twice a week or more on average.

In today’s highly digital culture, most teens I work with say a big part of their day is spent texting, being online or playing video games. Although these activities are not in-and-of-themselves a problem, the excess usage among youth continues to have negative outcomes. When a young person spends all their time “locked into” their devices, they are spending less and less time engaged with others, having conversations and building the communication skills they will need as an adult. There are a great number of similarities between the teenager who hides in his room playing video games because kids are mean to him in school and the adult who hides out in front of a slot machine to avoid dealing with the strained relationships at home or at work. When I talk with kids I ask them this, “what would happen if all electronic devices simultaneously melted down today.what would you do?” I get a lot of responses that suggest they would “freak out, go crazy or absolutely loose it” without their electronic devices. So the big question seems to beis this a problem, or perhaps a symptom of a problem that is starting to develop?

Parents can steer their children away from risky behaviors by monitoring their activities; creating an open environment for communication; spending time together, having regular family dinners; setting clear rules; having conversations about addiction and helping them develop healthy coping strategies for the stresses of adolescence.

It is also important for parents to understand that normal teenagers are more impulsive, aggressive and emotionally volatile than the average adult. They also must keep in mind that the brain of an adolescent is still under construction. With the many biological changes that are occurring in a teenager, not only are they seeking more instant gratification, but they develop addictions at a faster rate. Think about it, 85 percent of adults who smoke or chew tobacco today, started before the age of 18 years old. The average length of time for an adult to develop alcoholism is five to 15 years of heavy drinking, but for a teenager the addiction can develop in just six months to two years. Parents should think about their own beliefs about gambling and consider how their own behavior might influence their children. Most kids learn behaviors from what they see from their parents, not by what they are told they should/should not do.

If you are a parent and are concerned with your teenager’s gambling or other addictive behaviors, several resources can offer help. Beacon Light Behavioral Health has many free and confidential resources to address a wide array of addiction topics. Call (814) 584-1140 and ask for the Prevention Program. Also, if you know of someone who is experiencing gambling difficulties, the PA Problem Gambling hotline is always available by calling (877) 565-2112 or visit the state website at www.PAPROBLEMGAMBLING.com

March is National Gambling Addiction Awareness Month. Gambling Addiction is a social issue that impacts many citizens of Warren and Forest counties. To better understand gambling addiction and those who may be at higher risk for developing addictions, contact Nicole Drozdiel at Beacon Light Behavioral Health.