Gambling and Gaming Addictions on the Rise among Teens
Mention addictions, and most people think of drugs and alcohol. While they are pervasive, gambling and internet gaming are growing addictions, particularly among teens, that are not attracting as much attention.
According to the Council of Compulsive Gambling of PA, 4% to 6% of teens experience severe gambling problems, and 10% to 15% are at risk for developing a severe problem.
In 2019, the World Health Organization began to classify internet-gaming disorder in their classification of diseases.
Gaming disorder also has officially been added to the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). It is alongside gambling disorder in the list of disorders due to addictive behaviors.
“We are seeing many more teens who are addicted to gambling or internet gaming,” says Heather Bridges, director, Genesis House Harrisburg, which provides counseling to teens and adults. “It’s important to increase awareness among parents so they can educate themselves regarding these activities and signs of addiction.”
Although gambling and internet gaming are common leisure activities, they can develop into addictions. It can be difficult to determine when an activity is no longer recreational, but rather an addiction.
“No matter what the substance or activity, addiction does not happen overnight,” says Bridges. “We need to be aware of the patterns, progression, and consequences experienced as the result of the activity. The way these activities affect someone’s life is a key component in determining whether someone is addicted to a behavior.”
The growth of teen gambling addiction is startling. According to a 2017 study conducted by the Council on Compulsive Gambling of PA, 80% of teens have gambled in the past year. Twenty-one percent purchased lottery tickets; 18% bet on skill games, such as video games and billiards; and 14% wagered on sporting events. Adolescent problem gamblers reported beginning to gamble as early as age 10.
Teenage gambling is the fastest-growing addiction today, according to David Robertson of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
“It’s pernicious, evil, and it feeds on the weakest,” he says.
“Gambling is low effort and high excitement,” points out Bridges. “Gambling gives teens a chance to win money, excitement, and the rush of winning. It also gives them a distraction from everyday life and a way to fit in, be accepted, or feel important. Many teens think it’s a way to get rich quick.”
Bridges says since adolescence is a period of profound brain maturation (brain development and maturation are not complete until age 25), teens may be vulnerable to risky decision making, with or without introduction to addictive behavior.
Because it’s easy for teens to gamble using their smartphones or to isolate by having a laptop or computer in their bedroom, they often can gamble undetected.
Bridges offers nine warning signs of a gambling disorder:
- Gambling more frequently or for longer than intended
- Lying about where money goes
- Declining work or school performance
- Borrowing money in order to gamble
- Increasing preoccupation with gambling
- Distancing or isolating from family or friends
- Unable to pay bills or cover expenses
- Chasing losses, or returning the next day to win back what was lost
- Considering committing a crime to finance gambling
- Making repeated unsuccessful efforts to control or stop gambling
Excessive internet gaming can produce some of the same negative behaviors as gambling. Bridges says gamers can become restless or irritable without their games; lose sleep due to their activity; become anxious, upset, or depressed; and get angry when someone or something interrupts a game.
Enhanced graphics, realistic scenarios, and incentives to play longer are several of the reasons why some teens play video games six to eight hours a day.
While the number of teens addicted to video games is rising, it’s still a relatively small percent. According to WebMD, it’s estimated that between 1% and 9% of all gamers (adults and teens) meet the proposed criteria for addiction. The small percentage, however, doesn’t minimize the addiction’s impact.
Dr. Joel Holiner of The Holiner Psychiatric Group in Dallas, Texas, specializes in addiction treatment. He writes on his website: “Even though most people think of addiction as a substance-abuse problem, psychiatrists increasingly recognize that gaming addiction is a clinical impulse disorder that also meets the diagnostic criteria for addiction. I have treated an increasing number of patients who have compulsive gaming behaviors that lead to a myriad of life miseries.
“Deteriorating school or work performance, relationship issues, and even withdrawal symptoms are common. Depression, irritability, anxiety, and insomnia are seen regularly. Although excessive gaming may seem harmless, it can ruin lives.”
Persistent and problematic gambling or internet gaming behavior can possibly lead to significant impairment or distress, according to Bridges. Addiction has the potential to impact an individual’s emotional, physical, mental, and social health.
How can parents help teens who are addicted to internet gaming or gambling?
“Initially, education and the ability to identify that there is a problem are key,” says Bridges. “It is imperative parents do not ignore any possible concerns of a problem. When parents have identified that their teens have an addiction, it is important they remain calm and supportive.”
She adds that parents should seek out the support of a professional counselor, one who is experienced in this area. The counselor can aid the family through the process of promoting change.