Gambling addiction as danger for teenagers

Gambling-addicted teens need

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about with your teens, here comes another concern: gambling, warns Neale S. Godfrey, a former bank president and expert on family finance, known in the US thanks to her book "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees". Her article was published in Delaware Online.

Poker has become a popular game among our youth, possibly fueled by all the celebrity poker shows on TV. They are playing and betting in card games and online. What should you, as the parent, look out for? Does your college student or teen suddenly have a lot of money (or debts) that he can't account for?

Gambling may be the culprit. It has always been a potential hazard for teenagers. Betting seems like fun. It generally involves small sums of money (at least at first), and it has the air of the forbidden without seeming really dangerous. 

It can get out of hand, though.

And with the arrival of Internet gambling, and the proliferation of credit cards in the hands of teenagers, the problem has gotten much worse. Anyone with a credit card can gamble online -- even your young teenagers, if they have access to one of your credit card numbers.

Gambling addiction is rampant among college-age kids. It's as much as five times more common in this age group than among adults, says Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders in the Division on Addictions at Harvard Medical School.

Calls to the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey by people of all ages who found themselves in over their heads because of Internet gambling rose 1,000 percent between 2001 and 2002.

Teens' gambling addiction: possible consequences

And the consequences can be more devastating than you'd think. Gambling addiction is more likely than any other form of addiction to lead to suicide, says Sharon L. Mitchell, director of the counseling program at the University of Delaware, because the bottoming out is accompanied by such devastating financial loss.

Frighteningly, gambling addiction does not get the attention it deserves at most colleges. But it needs to be treated like any other addiction handled by skilled and trained specialists.

The symptoms of gambling addiction include mood swings and an erratic pattern of spending. Unexplained trips to places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City can be a tip-off, but college students are much more likely to gamble online or with a local bookie than to go to the big gambling resorts.

Gambling addicts are likely to steal money from family, roommates or friends. Be suspicious of a sudden change in patterns of making and getting phone calls and a sudden increase in calls from strangers. Gambling addicts will often have changes in sleep patterns, too, including sleep deprivation.

Gambling addiction and teens: what to do

Authorities warn that innocent-seeming family events like a family poker night, trips to the racetrack or NCAA tournament pools can create the illusion that gambling is a benign pastime. They also discourage having "casino nights" as teen fund-raisers and giving lottery tickets as gifts.

I can't emphasize strongly enough that gambling is an addiction problem, not a discipline problem. Gambling-addicted teens need to be treated by an experienced counselor, not sent to their rooms, states Neale S. Godfrey in Delaware Online.