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Understanding and Addressing Teen Gambling: A Parent’s Guide 

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Is your teen caught up in a gambling addiction? 

With adolescents increasingly exposed to gambling opportunities, the prevalence of teen gambling has become a growing concern. With the rise of online gambling, it has become more accessible than ever before. As parents, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of potential gambling problems, and know how to address them effectively. This guide will provide some insights into teen gambling addiction, empowering parents to take proactive steps in safeguarding their teenagers.

Understanding Teen Gambling

Teen gambling involves adolescents participating in various forms of betting or wagering, be it through card games, sports betting, or online gambling. While it might initially appear harmless, gambling has the potential to escalate into a serious problem. Teen gambling addiction is a process addiction that affects the individual’s brain similarly to substance addictions, leading to an irresistible urge to continue gambling despite negative consequences. While it doesn’t seem like a drug, your teen’s brain may register it that way.

Prevalence and Trends in Teen Gambling

Recent studies and surveys have shown a notable increase in teen gambling, with a significant percentage of adolescents admitting to engaging in gambling activities. The easy availability of gambling outlets, coupled with the allure of quick money, has contributed to this trend. The normalization of gambling in society and its portrayal in media have further played roles in its rise among teenagers.

Risk Factors for Teen Gambling

Several risk factors contribute to teen gambling, including exposure to gambling activities, having family members with a history of gambling problems, and experiencing issues like depression or anxiety. Social influences and peer pressure also play significant roles in pushing teenagers towards gambling.

Peer Pressure and Social Influences

Adolescents are highly susceptible to peer pressure and societal influences. Friends who engage in gambling can sway a teenager’s perception, making it seem like an acceptable or even desirable activity. The glamorization of gambling in media and popular culture further exacerbates this issue.

The Role of Technology and Online Gambling

The advent of technology and the availability of online gambling platforms have made gambling more accessible to teenagers. Online gambling can be particularly enticing due to its anonymity, convenience, and the vast array of options available.

Common Forms of Teen Gambling

Teen gambling can take various forms, including betting on sports games, participating in card games, engaging in casino-style games, or even using online gambling platforms. Some teens might also indulge in informal betting activities, such as placing wagers on the outcome of a game with friends.

Why is Teen Gambling a Concern?

If your teen is occasionally gambling in a casual way, it’s likely not a problem. However, if your teen seems unusually preoccupied with gambling, they may be dealing with an addiction. 

Teen gambling poses several concerns, ranging from financial loss and legal issues to potential mental health problems. Adolescents are not emotionally or financially equipped to deal with the consequences of excessive gambling, and it can lead to a spiraling effect of negative outcomes. Gambling problems in teens can also be a precursor to other high-risk behaviors.

The Impact of Gambling on Teenagers

Teen gambling addiction can have profound long-term effects on an adolescent’s life. It can lead to a decline in academic performance, strained relationships with family and friends, and increased susceptibility to other addictive behaviors. Managing high-risk behaviors like gambling addiction is crucial for the overall well-being and future of the teenager.

Signs of Problem Gambling in Adolescents

Identifying signs of a gambler in teens is the first step towards addressing the issue. Some signs your teen may be a compulsive gambler include: 

Preoccupation with Gambling: Your teen might constantly think about gambling, reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, or thinking of ways to get money to gamble.

Need to Gamble with Increasing Amounts: Similar to other addictions, your teen might need to bet more money more frequently to experience the same level of excitement.

Restlessness or Irritability when Trying to Stop: Your teen may become irritable or restless when they try to cut down or stop gambling.

Repeated Unsuccessful Attempts to Stop: They might have tried to stop gambling several times but couldn’t.

Gambling to Escape Problems: Your teen might gamble to escape stress, anxiety, depression, or other issues they are dealing with.

Chasing Losses: After losing money gambling, your teen might return another day to get even. This is referred to as “chasing losses.”

Lying to Conceal Gambling Activity: Your teen might lie to family members, friends, or others to hide the extent of their gambling.

Jeopardizing or Losing Relationships or Opportunities: Gambling might have caused issues in their relationships, affected their performance at school, or resulted in the loss of significant opportunities.

Relying on Others for Financial Bailouts: They might rely on others to help them deal with financial problems caused by gambling.

Stealing or Committing Fraud to Gamble: In some cases, a gambling addiction can lead to illegal activities like theft or fraud to acquire money for gambling.

Withdrawal from Family and Friends: You might notice that your teen is withdrawing from family, friends, and activities they used to enjoy.

Changes in Behavior or Personality: A gambling addiction can result in changes in behavior or personality, including increased irritability, impatience, or feelings of hopelessness.

Neglecting Responsibilities: Your teen might neglect their responsibilities at home, school, or work to spend more time gambling.

Financial Issues: You might notice unexplained debts, missing money, or other financial issues.

If you notice these signs in your teen, it is important to seek professional help. Gambling addiction is a serious condition, but it is treatable. Therapy, support groups, and sometimes medication can help individuals overcome a gambling addiction. It’s also important to have open and supportive conversations with your teen about the risks and potential harms associated with gambling.

Legal and Age Restrictions on Teen Gambling

There are legal age restrictions in place for gambling; however, teens often find ways to bypass these limitations, especially online. It is crucial for parents and authorities to enforce these restrictions and take measures to prevent underage gambling.

Consequences of Untreated Teen Gambling

Leaving teen gambling addiction untreated can lead to severe consequences, including financial ruin, legal troubles, and long-lasting mental health issues. It is vital for parents to act promptly and seek treatment for teens struggling with gambling problems.

Talking to Teens About Responsible Gambling

Talking to your teen about responsible gambling is crucial, especially if you’re noticing signs of a gambling addiction. Here is a guide on how to approach this topic:

1. Choose the Right Time and Setting:

Find a quiet, comfortable place to talk, free from distractions. Ensure you have enough time to have a thorough discussion.

2. Educate Yourself First:

Make sure you are informed about gambling, its risks, and the signs of problematic gambling. This will help you provide accurate and helpful information.

3. Start with an Open-Ended Question:

Begin the conversation with a question like, “What do you think about gambling?” or “Have you or your friends ever talked about gambling?” This allows your teen to express their views and experiences.

4. Express Your Concerns Clearly:

Share your concerns about gambling in a calm and clear manner. Focus on the potential risks and why it’s important to make responsible choices.

5. Provide Information:

Explain what responsible gambling is, including setting limits on time and money spent, and the importance of not chasing losses. Discuss the legal age for gambling and why these regulations exist.

6. Talk About the Risks:

Be honest about the risks associated with gambling, including the potential for addiction, financial loss, and impacts on mental health.

7. Highlight the Importance of Balance:

Emphasize the importance of balance and participating in a variety of activities, not just gambling.

8. Encourage Critical Thinking:

Encourage your teen to think critically about gambling advertisements and promotions, and to be aware of how these might influence their behavior.

9. Discuss Peer Pressure:

Talk about peer pressure and the importance of making their own responsible choices, even if friends are participating in gambling.

10. Be a Role Model:

Model responsible behavior in your own gambling activities (if you gamble) and in other areas of life.

11. Encourage Open Communication:

Let your teen know that they can always talk to you about gambling or any other issues, without fear of judgment or punishment.

12. Provide Support Resources:

Share resources where they can get help or more information about responsible gambling and gambling addiction.

13. Follow-Up:

Revisit the conversation periodically to reinforce the message and check-in on their thoughts and experiences.

14. Be Patient and Non-Judgmental:

Understand that your teen may have different views and experiences with gambling. Be patient and listen to their perspective.

15. Make It a Learning Experience:

Use the conversation as a learning experience, encouraging responsible decision-making not just in gambling, but in other aspects of life as well.

How to Stop a Gambling Addiction

When signs of gambling addiction become apparent, seeking professional help is crucial. There are specialized gambling addiction treatment programs and counselors available to help teenagers overcome their gambling problems. Parents setting limits and monitoring their teen’s activities can also play a crucial role in managing and preventing teen gambling addiction.

Get the Support You and Your Teen Need

Addressing teen gambling addiction requires a united front from parents, educators, and professionals. There are more resources for parents available now than ever before, and seeking help is a sign of strength and commitment to your teen’s well-being. There are also major  benefits of sending your teen to residential treatment at Evolve. Treatment can provide  them with the necessary tools and support to overcome gambling addiction. Reach out to us today to learn how we can help. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Gambling Disorder in Teens

What is the difference between casual gambling and gambling disorder?

Casual gambling is occasional and for entertainment, while gambling disorder is characterized by the inability to stop gambling, leading to negative consequences.

Can anyone develop a gambling disorder?

Yes, gambling disorder can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

What causes teen gambling disorder?

Teen gambling disorder can be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

Are there genetic factors involved in teen gambling disorder?

Yes, there is evidence to suggest that genetic factors can play a role in the development of gambling disorders.

What are the financial consequences of teen gambling disorder?

Teens may incur significant debts, steal money, or engage in other illegal activities to fund their gambling.

Is gambling disorder different in teens compared to adults?

The core characteristics are similar, but teens may be more susceptible to peer pressure and have less control over their impulses.

How does gambling disorder in teens affect family and relationships?

It can lead to trust issues, strained relationships, and an overall negative impact on family dynamics.

Can teen gambling disorder lead to legal problems?

Yes, teens may engage in illegal activities to fund their gambling or face legal issues due to underage gambling.

What are the signs of a teen with gambling disorder trying to hide their behavior?

Signs may include secretive behavior, unexplained loss of money, and withdrawal from friends and family.

Can online gambling exacerbate gambling disorder?

Yes, the accessibility and anonymity of online gambling can contribute to the severity of gambling disorder.

How can schools and communities raise awareness about teen gambling disorder?

Schools and communities can organize educational programs, provide resources, and create support networks for teens.

What steps can I take to prevent relapse after treatment for teen gambling disorder?

Maintaining open communication, setting clear limits, and encouraging healthy hobbies can help prevent relapse.

Are there legal consequences for casinos or gambling establishments that enable gambling disorder?

Yes, establishments can face legal consequences for allowing underage gambling or not taking measures to prevent gambling disorder.

What are the financial and social costs of teen gambling disorder to society?

The costs include increased healthcare and legal expenses, as well as the negative impact on productivity and social well-being.

Can gambling disorder co-occur with other substance use disorders?

Yes, gambling disorder can co-occur with other substance use disorders, requiring comprehensive treatment.

What is the relationship between teen gambling disorder and depression?

There is a strong correlation, as teens with gambling disorder are more likely to experience depression and other mental health issues.

Are there effective ways to self-monitor and control gambling behavior?

Yes, there are strategies and tools available to help individuals monitor and control their gambling behavior, but professional help may be necessary for severe cases.

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