Gambling problems

International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors

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Adolescents | Gambling problems

Gambling problems

While the vast majority of adults and adolescents gamble from time to time, others engage in the activity excessively. Moving from occasional players, they will progressively become regular players, and, later on, for many of them, problem gamblers (showing signs of loss of control over gambling behaviour) or pathological gamblers (having lost control over the gambling behaviour unable to stop gambling).

In general, between 60-80% of high school students report having gambled for money during the past year; 4-6% of these students are considered pathological gamblers (addicted to gambling) while another 6-8% are at risk of developing a serious gambling problem, or show signs of loss of control. Boys are more likely than girls to gamble and experience gambling problems. Yet for most parents and teens, gambling is seen as an innocuous behaviour with few negative consequences.

Problem gambling

Gambling becomes problematic when a person keeps playing despite experiencing negative consequences from their gambling participation. Because they are preoccupied with their gambling activities and are losing control, excessive players will neglect their other responsibilities and activities. They are unable to set or maintain limits related to both time and money.

Impact of problem gambling on personal functioning

Gambling problems can affect all aspects of a person's development; social life, academic or professional life, mood, personality, physical and mental health, and personal relationships. The level of impact and the degree of severity of symptoms varies from person to person.

Personal health problems

can arise, including physical health problems, such as physical pain, sleeping disorders, eating habits, and mental health problems such as anxiety, stress, depression, mood swings, and unexplained anger.

  • Interpersonal problems can form in relationships with family members and friends.
  • Financial problems, such as spending more money than planned, borrowing, and stealing money, can arise from gambling habits.
  • Academic and professional problems in school can occur, such as a loss of interest in previous pursuits, absenteeism, and failing.

Signs of problem gambling

In adolescents, manifestation of gambling problems is not always as clear as those commonly observed in adult problem gamblers. However, some signs can indicate the development of a growing problem:

  • a consuming interest in gambling and gambling-related activites
  • problems in school, such as a loss of interest or unexplained absences
  • changes in personality or demeanour
  • changes in relationships (new friends and acquaintances, ignoring old friends)
  • changes in mood
  • explosive expression of anger
  • signs of anxiety and stress

Here's what research and clinical work tells us: adolescent problem gamblers...

  • are more likely to be boys
  • are generally greater risk-takers
  • often show signs of lower self-esteem
  • tend to report higher rates of depression
  • often gamble to escape problems
  • are more likely to also develop substance addictions
  • seem to be more excitable and outgoing
  • are more anxious and less self-disciplined
  • are at greater risk for suicide ideation and suicide attempts
  • often replace their regular friends with gambling acquaintances
  • have poor coping skills
  • report beginning gambling at an early age (approximately age 10)
  • often recall an early big win
  • report more daily hassles and major traumatic life events
  • often have parents, relatives, or friends who gamble
  • are more likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour and criminal activities to acquire money
  • develop problems with family and friends
  • move quickly from just gambling with friends and family to problem gambling
  • show decreased academic performance