Gambling and Adolescents


Gambling is a risky and often unpredictable activity. It involves wagering something of value on a random event, such as a horse race or a lottery ticket. The gambler must consider the value of the wager, the potential for losing the wager, and the prize that will be awarded if the gambler wins.

Historically, gambling has been a part of almost every society, and was particularly popular in ancient Greece, Romans, and Mesopotamia. Today, gambling is legalized in all 50 states. There are a variety of forms of gambling, including lotteries, slot machines, and games of skill. Some people also gamble online.

Adolescents can engage in a variety of gambling behaviors, from no gambling to occasional social gambling. In some cases, adolescents exhibit pathological gambling, or gambling addiction. According to the American Psychiatric Association, pathological gambling is characterized by a craving for intense pleasure. This craving leads a person to spend a substantial amount of money and/or time on gambling.

Many of the symptoms of pathological gambling are genetic. For example, those with Parkinson’s disease are between two and seven percent of compulsive gamblers. They share genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking. As a result, they respond better to addiction treatment. Other signs of pathological gambling include lying to a spouse about gambling, absent from work, and spending a paycheck on gambling.

Recent studies have shown that gambling and drug addiction have some common characteristics. Both drugs alter brain circuits, and both substance addicts and compulsive gamblers experience withdrawal symptoms when separated from the substance. Substance addicts need increasingly powerful hits to get high, and compulsive gamblers pursue ever riskier ventures.

Gambling also causes change in mood. It triggers feelings of excitement and euphoria. These feelings are connected to the reward system, a neural network that links the parts of the brain that are responsible for motivation and memory. When the gambling process is finished, the brain’s reward system re-connects, and the player has a sense of euphoria.

One of the most prominent problems with adolescent problem gambling is that it alienates family members. Parents are reluctant to report the behavior to school, and children are often left to suffer the consequences of their actions. Fortunately, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a strong treatment option. A therapist can help adolescents develop skills that will prevent them from engaging in the activity in the first place.

The National Gambling Helpline, a national resource for problem gamblers, reports that about 80 percent of gamblers do not seek treatment. While a few underage youth acquire lottery products from legal-age gamblers, most young people do not go to a casino. However, some youth celebrate reaching the legal age by visiting a casino.

Online casinos allow gamblers to play from any location. In addition, most gambling websites offer mobile options. Mobile gambling is especially helpful for betting on sports while watching the game.

Gambling addiction is becoming more widespread in the U.S. In fact, there are 20 million adults with gambling habits that interfere with their work, relationships, or school. Thankfully, there are many new forms of treatment available to help individuals overcome their gambling problems.