Jonathan learned how to gamble from his father. It’s as though the illness got passed down to him, slowly, effortlessly. Jonathan knows that an addiction is an illness, but he didn’t know it when he was a child. He didn’t know that addiction could ruin your life, until he got caught up in it himself.
However, when he was five years old, he knew that something was wrong when his father didn’t come home one night. And then when he was 11, it was obvious that his addiction was a serious problem. His mother picked him up from his soccer practice at 7pm and told him that they were sleeping in the van that night. He couldn’t believe it. But he knew that the reason they weren’t going home was because his father had lost the house because of all the money he owed.
Despite that horrible memory, Jonathan began gambling too. It was so easy to get sucked into the high of winning and the lure of trying to get it all back when you lost. Even though he knew the consequences, even though he knew what despair it could bring, Jonathan got caught in the addiction cycle too.
Another teenager says that gambling sort of snuck up on him. At a time when he was feeling a lot of shame, the high of gambling was the perfect fix for his broken spirit. Gambling became such an intense experience that all of the sudden he couldn’t stop playing. He began to gamble when he told others he wouldn’t, even waking up in the middle of the night to gamble online. He was thinking about gambling at school, at home, and with friends. Over time, he even stopped attending school to make gambling a full time experience. It became a compulsive behavior that easily masked the pain of loneliness, fear, depression, and confusion.
Clearly, a person can become addicted to behaviors, not just to drugs and alcohol. In fact, any behavior can become an addiction, like gambling, shopping, working, sex, or playing video games. When a teen or adult has lost their power over their ability to stop that behavior, an addiction has set in. In these cases, the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to the problems. Although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, behavioral addictions also bring on feeling high. The reward system in the brain becomes activated again and again, and the feeling euphoria, as with winning in gambling can lead to that behavior becoming the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities.
Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder is an illness of being psychologically dependent upon gambling. It’s important to remember that addiction has nothing to do with morality or strength of character. And addiction is not simply a perpetual search for pleasure. It is more than that. It is a psychological illness that has yet to be fully understood. Nonetheless, treatment for addiction has been proven to be effective.
Teens, if you feel like you might have a problem, check out this Self-Test for Teens to see whether you have a gambling problem. And even if you suspect that something is going on, don’t rely on your test scores. See a mental health professional who can adequately provide a diagnosis, if you have one. From there, getting the right help for the compulsive behaviors that lead to teen gambling addiction can begin.
Anonymous. (August 14, 2013). Dad, Please Don’t Gamble. LAYouth.com. Retrieved on July 9, 2014 from: www.layouth.com/dad-please-dont-gamble/A
ASAM Board of Directors. “Definition of Addiction.” American Society of Addiction Medicine. American Society of Addiction Medicine, 19 Apr. 2011. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.
By Robert Hunt
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