A Dangerous Game: Teens and Gambling Addiction
There are a million ways that a gambling habit can sneak into a teen’s life, and serious consequences are a sure bet.
When Ross started betting on video games, he was only a sophomore in high school. “It wasn’t about the money; it was about the action,” he told Fox News. “When I was betting on anything, it was a rush. It was heaven for me.” By the time he was a senior, Ross was facing debts of nearly US$30,000 and a serious gambling addiction. “I was always gambling and losing,” Ross explained. “I was always chasing that bet.”
With the exponential rise in online gambling sites, and the easy accessibility to them via smartphones, more teenagers are being exposed to gambling. Teens can gamble from the comfort of their bedrooms without needing to show any proof of age—and do so while using their parents’ credit cards.
A recent Hong Kong study of youth under 18 showed that more than 40% had gambled, generally on football, cards or video games. For some, these early forays into gambling can lead into a full-blown addiction. The Cabin Hong Kong has years of experience working with teens and their families to understand behaviours that can underlie a gambling problem and help them learn how to overcome an addiction.
Making a Bet: How Gambling Starts
An interest in gambling can start in a variety of ways: the excitement of watching a relative buy a winning lottery ticket, playing a round of Bingo or venturing into the world of online poker. For many teens, betting on video games or sports matches is an added thrill to an already enjoyable activity.
The ease of gambling, even for underage bettors, is why multiple studies in a variety of countries have shown that children as young as nine or 10 years old have tried gambling. In fact, most teens have gambled at least once by the time they turn 15. Smartphones and tablets allow unfettered access to a range of gambling sites and gambling-themed games. Though some games may not allow players to place actual bets, the simulation may be enough to pique an interest in real stakes gaming.
Online gambling sites often have a ‘practice mode’, where players tend to win more than usual. Chats and messaging features connect teens to other players, creating a fun, social atmosphere that adds to the excitement of a potential win. This, combined with the allure of easy money, can make gambling both attractive and seemingly low-risk to teens.
Many teens who start gambling also have a limited understanding about real odds when playing games of chance. An early winning streak can delude players into thinking that winning is a more regular occurrence than it actually is, and leave people chasing a more and more implausible win—with greater and greater risks.
From Dabbling to Debt: Who is at Risk for a Gambling Addiction
Though anyone can develop a gambling addiction, studies have revealed some risk factors that can increase susceptibility to a dependency. These factors include:
- Starting gambling at a young age
- Being regularly exposed to gambling in the home or with friends
- Private, unrestricted access to the Internet
- Engaging in other risky behaviour, such as substance abuse, shoplifting, etc.
- Having an impulsive, excitable, sensation-seeking personality
- Facing personal or familial stress
- Dealing with anxiety or depression
Gambling can be used as a coping mechanism, a way to escape from life’s stresses and disappointments, or alleviate boredom or loneliness. However, because gambling activates the risk and reward part of the brain, engaging in regular betting can increase the risk for developing an addiction—one that can be just as serious and damaging as a substance dependency.
Some evidence suggests that teens are more susceptible to gambling addictions because their brains are still developing, which can make the impacts of the addiction more severe. Approximately one-third of adult gamblers in treatment reported starting to place bets when they were between 11 and 17 years old, suggesting a link between early gambling and the onset of addiction.
Identifying Signs of an Early Gambling Addiction
Though teens may exhibit different signs of addiction than adult gamblers, there are some warning signs to look out for if you suspect that your teen may be struggling with a gambling habit.
Changes in financial situation
- Borrowing money from a variety of people
- Unexplained influxes of cash
- Selling personal items
- Secrecy regarding finances
Changes in behaviour
- Erratic sleeping patterns
- Depression and anxiety
- Low energy levels
Changes in activities
- Poor grades at school and problematic attendance
- Shifting friend circles or isolation
- Heightened interest in gambling related-activities
- Trouble with the law
The range of negative impacts that gambling can cause in a teen’s life, whether legal, financial, or social, are serious and potentially life-altering. If you believe that someone you love may be experiencing a gambling addiction, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible in order to ensure the best chance for recovery.
How The Cabin Hong Kong Can Help Teens Who Gamble
The Cabin Hong Kong offers a supportive, effective outpatient programme targeted towards helping teens establish positive patterns of behaviour, understand problematic triggers, and manage impulses in order to beat a gambling addiction. Programmes are offered in after-school hours so teens can still fully participate in their regular activities while getting the help they need.
Our evidence-based treatment for gambling addiction combines a modern version of the 12 Steps, along with our unique Recovery Zones model. Through both individual and group sessions with our trained professional staff, we can help you understand and address the specific root causes underlying a tendency to gamble, and develop strategies to avoid a relapse.
For those who would benefit from a more intensive recovery environment, our partner The Edge offers a luxury inpatient treatment option specifically for young men in the serene mountains of northern Thailand. Limited Internet access in a remote setting ensures that you will be able to focus on your recovery far away from usual triggers.
When a teen is facing a gambling addiction, it can be difficult to know how to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling, contact us today to learn more about how we can work together with you to start down the path towards better choices and a stable, healthy future.