Gambling disorders might seem like a behavioral issue that isn’t quite as present among teens as it is among adults, but a surprising number of teenage children engage in gambling through the internet, utilizing thousands of different casino websites, lottery sites, mystery box websites, and more. Certain video game practices – particularly the implementation of “loot boxes” and “gacha mechanics” on both console games and mobile games – partially feeds into this bad habit, by rewarding players with random (and rarely rewarding) in-game content rather than money, incentivizing the purchase of large amounts of in-game currency for a better chance at desirable items.
The urge to gamble is innate, and feeds on our risk-reward itch, which is what makes these games – both in their physical form at casinos around the world, as well as virtually through the internet – so very dangerous. But while adults have the advantage of a fully-formed brain, teens are particularly susceptible to the marketing tactics and gameplay hook of various online gambling games, causing them to often spend inordinate amounts of money on the chance to obtain a rare virtual item, or make cash back on lottery sites and mystery box websites. The promotion of these games through popular content creators online marketing to children (because they do not officially count as gambling), makes this a serious issue that requires any and every parent’s attention.
Addictiveness – it is important to remember that unlike most addictive substances, gambling is an entirely man-made behavior designed explicitly to create an addictive loop. Just like any other designer drugs, the point of any element of gambling is to maximize profits while remaining vaguely legal. Teens are especially susceptible to gambling, and because the legislation surrounding certain gambling elements in games and online media, as well as the difficulty involved in preventing anonymous teens from gambling online, teens today are often fully subjected to the addictiveness of gambling if they choose to seek it out, or happen to be pulled in by somebody else.
Predisposition – genetics and circumstances alike go on to feed the development of negative coping mechanisms, of which we are all guilty. However, teens are particularly susceptible to developing habits that are likely to lead to drastic and serious long-term consequences, attractive due to their short-term benefits. While video gaming and online browsing is in no way an indicator of illegal or addictive behavior, the fact remains that the vast majority of teens in the country spend time on the internet and play games. Many seek ways to relieve boredom or cope with distressing news and sources of stress by engaging with others online, consuming online media, or playing a game. Because of the rush involved in online gambling, many find themselves hooked early on by the sheer adrenaline and enjoyment of spending money and winning, whether they win a product, cash prize, or other item. This can quickly outpace the interest a teen might have for anything else, particularly if they are male, typically stressed out, or struggling financially.
Age – the teenage brain is unfortunately more susceptible to risk-taking behavior due to the fact that teens are still growing the portion of their brain fully responsible for determining risk, thinking things through, planning in the long-term, and considering decisions more carefully. However, it is irresponsible to put the blame of irresponsibility on the shoulders of a teen’s neurology, when many teens can be taught to uphold responsibility and maintain a sense of discipline and attentive decision-making just as well as most adults. While age is a factor, it is minor.
of children in the UK were found to have gambling issues, up from 0.4% in 2016
of teens in a survey play gambling-style games online
of teens between ages 12 and 17 reported gambling at least once in the past year
Help them identify better coping mechanisms – some teens turn to gambling, partially because nothing interests them or excites them the way they are excited when their investment in a casino game or video game pays off. The basic gist of gambling is the rush of risk versus reward, but commodified and optimized for endless consumption. Breaking someone out of that loop means helping them rediscover what it means to have fun, and working with them to find a variety of different ways to relieve and manage stress.
Help them work on their moderation and scheduling – it’s impossible to keep a teen away from addictive behavior. When driven to a point, all behavior with any associated reward can be addictive, including eating. However, by helping a teen manage the way they spend their time and working with them to prioritize their responsibilities and gauge the nature of their behavior on the basis of how it affects their commitment to school, family, friends, and partners, you can help your teen develop a healthier relationship to potentially addictive behavior.
Continue working with a therapist after recovery – treatment for addiction is not necessarily the end. Teens with a history of compulsive behavior and mental health issues are more susceptible to develop further issues in the future, and while gambling is not the same kind of addiction as drug addiction, relapses are still possible. It’s important to encourage your teen to continue working on their mental health, keeping themselves happy and motivated to remain healthy for years to come. As teens approach early adulthood, they will be faced with a mountain of challenges – for many teens struggling with mental health issues, the right preparation can make a significant difference in the long-term.
Treating a gambling addiction requires understanding that, as a behavioral addiction, there is very little that physically ties a person to their habit. It’s not possible to go into serious physical withdrawal symptoms after cutting yourself off from gambling as an activity, however, there can be psychological consequences to quitting an addictive behavior. Treating teen gambling problems means helping a teen identify the various factors that led them to begin gambling, and providing them with the means to continue abstaining from it in the future.
Teen gambling addiction treatment is all about stopping the behavior, and figuring out the best and most effective way to keep it that way. The first step, then, is for the teen to admit that there’s a problem. This can be a struggle at first - especially for gambling. Often times, the person simply sees it as an activity they enjoy, but don’t recognize the harm it’s causing to their own lives, or to the lives of others around them. Overcoming that denial is crucial.
Once a teen admits to there being a problem, the next step is to figure out how to address it – and understand where it originated. Teens are more likely to shy away from addictive behavior if they understand how they were manipulated into it in the first place – if they realize that they began gambling as a way to cope, then learning better ways to cope will allow them to ultimately shed their gambling habits – and perhaps even learn to enjoy other activities again.
Medication as treatment for a gambling addiction does not exist, but it may play a role in treating the addiction if it exists concurrently to another problem, particularly a depression or an anxiety disorder that led to the gambling as a way to cope with serious psychological pain and worry.
Gambling issues don’t often arise out of nowhere, and while teens may temporarily find themselves struggling to manage their finances, and may even spend a lot of money on a short gambling stint, most realize the long-term cost and consequences of this kind of entertainment and shy away after the first bad experience. Underlying issues feed the urge to engage in addictive behavior for short-term satisfaction. Treating these issues is paramount, and medication may help.
Treatment isn’t over after rehab, and teens and parents alike should look towards recovery resources – including group therapy and online support forums – as a way to continue being immersed in the culture of recovery, and to keep teens from returning to their old habits when things get hectic and the lessons of rehab begin to fade away in the long-term.
Here at Paradigm, we understand that compulsively gambling away money is often a sign that a teen has completely lost control of their life, and is looking for a way to keep themselves from confronting the issues they are faced with every day. Whether these issues range from problems at school to underlying mental health issues, all of our treatment methods take into account that most cases of serious and addicted gambling need to be treated holistically, taking a teen’s circumstances and experiences into consideration on top of the nature of the behavior itself.
More Than A Bad Habit
We begin by addressing a teen’s habit in such a way that clearly allows them to confront it as a destructive issue, helping them dissociate from their actions and consider how they may be harmful without encouraging them to go on the defensive. By recognizing that they have a problem, teens will be more inclined to work on getting better, especially if they are given the hope that they can get better.
From there, treatment involves helping a teen establish a daily routine and several different therapeutic exercises to work on breaking bad habits and investing time towards activities and habits that promote recovery. Therapy is also included in the treatment process, not just as a way to address the addiction, but to help teens figure out when and why the urge to gamble grew so strong.
The Importance of Community
At Paradigm, we have a large staff dedicated to working with our teen patients to resolve their personal issues and find relief. Rather than seeing our patients as examples of an individual disease, we treat the patient as they are, taking into account every possible factor when determining a diagnosis and an appropriate course of action. We encourage interaction at Paradigm, allowing teens to work on opening to others and spending time with their peers without being in a judgmental or stressful environment.
The reward is unbelievable for your child! A real honest sense of a calmer understanding of themselves. A maturity happens....and even smiles, hugs and laughter come with renewed confidence for them. I am so grateful for their expertise and passion for what they do for their clients... The child that I once knew has returned, better, stronger, and willing to be happy!! Thank you so much Paradigm Malibu!!
Can I be cured from gambling disorder?
Addiction cannot be cured, but thankfully, compulsive gambling is not the same kind of addiction that occurs after long-term substance abuse. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the issues surrounding compulsive gambling may or may not be the kind that can be eliminated, with many issues – including depression, OCD, and ADHD – having no real cure, but countless treatments meant to help achieve proper adaptation.
What’s the difference between an addiction and gambling addictions?
While they seem similar on the surface, there is a difference between compulsions caused by disorders such as OCD, compulsions caused by personality disorders, compulsive behavior characterized by poor impulse control and addictive habits, and the compulsion to use an addictive substance, as in cases of physical dependence (addiction). These differences are important for clarity, so as to help parents, teens, and others better understand what it is that is causing the problems they experience, why one is different from the other, and how treatment will differ. The lack of physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms in behavioral addiction such as gambling problems makes these issues often more treatable, but still just as serious. They often hint at deeper issues that require a fair amount of patience and the right treatment approach to resolve and overcome.