Teen Addiction to Online Gambling

Teenage Gamblers

Teenage gambling is the fastest rising addiction today. About one in eight of the eight million compulsive gamblers are now teenagers, whereas just fifteen years ago, there were virtually none. Fully 80% of all teenagers gamble in some way and 15% are problem gamblers. Dr. Jeremiah Weinstock of the University of Connecticut, an expert on teen gambling, believes that between 4% and 7% of all teenagers suffer from a gambling addiction that involves clinical depression, huge debts, disruption of relationships, and/or involvement with organized crime.

“Teenage gambling, like alcohol and drug abuse in the 1930s, is the fastest growing addiction,” said David Robertson of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. “It’s pernicious, it’s evil and it feeds on the weakest.”

The number of Internet gambling websites increased from almost zero to over 1400 by 2004. Teens gamble in the convenience of their homes without having to show any proof of age. They gamble any hour of the day or night, using parents’ credit cards. The majority of problem gamblers are males who bet on the outcomes of sports events or video games.

From a medical point of view, compulsive gambling is an impulse disorder or one of several psychological impairments based on a “failure to resist an impulse that is harmful to the person and others.” People with this problem are unable to delay gratification. They tend to be impatient, intolerant of delay, and uncomfortable with planning or setting limits. They usually suffer from poor self-esteem because of their destructive behaviors, although they can be highly competitive, restless, energetic, and easily bored. There is a lot of evidence that teenagers are more susceptible to gambling addictions because their brains are not fully developed.

A compulsive gambler feels arousal when he thinks about gambling. Gambling releases this tension and then he feels pleasure. However, after that, he experiences guilt, regret and self-reproach. This is similar to the pattern of other addictions, including drug abuse and alcoholism; in fact, several studies have shown that gamblers are three times more likely to be substance abuses. A 2005 German study using magnetic scans of the brain activity of gamblers and substance abuses found that they are similar in the regions that control impulses and signal rewards.

These are the warning signs that your teen may be a compulsive gambler. He borrows and/or steals money and has unexplained debts or extra cash. He sells household items and runs up credit cards, but when reproached, he lies about it. He may have unexcused absences from school or other activities. He receives phone calls from strangers and is obsessed about sports scores. He appears moody, distracted and depressed.

Compulsive gamblers need professional treatment and support. Some teens will benefit from a residential treatment center such as a boarding school or wilderness program where they receive intensive therapy and constant supervision. If you suspect your teen has a gambling problem, you should call the Gam-Anon organization. This is the support group for family members of gamblers, sponsored by Gamblers Anonymous.