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Teen Gambling Addiction and How To Tell If You Have A Problem

Gambling can be fun and exciting. If you’re living in anywhere on the West Coast, taking a trip to Las Vegas and having fun with the millions of choices for gambling from playing the slot machines to working the tables. There’s no question there’s a rush of excitement, even when you win a mere $50.


Imagine what it would be like if winning turned into thousands of dollars. You might get an extraordinary rush from it. In fact, that rush can become such an attraction, for some, that it can become an obsession. And when someone is obsessed about playing, when they become preoccupied with gambling even when they are not gambling, an addiction might be setting in. In the beginning what seems like innocent fun has spun out of control. And it’s easy to do. Money is a significant stimulator in life, and when you’re winning lots of it; it’s hard to pull away from the future possibilities of winning more.


However, when teens lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, an addiction might be setting in. According to YouthGambling.com, 4-7% of teens exhibit gambling addiction behavior, which include enjoying the rush of gambling; using the earnings of a win to stay in the game, versus walking away, and relies on loans from friends and families; doing anything to stay in the game and continue to gamble; focusing on winning big and will continue to play despite continued losses; and playing online, maxing out credit cards, if necessary, to continue to play.


As teens continue to gamble and the loss of control over playing sets in, there might be a decline in school performance, such as in lower grades or truancy. A teen might experience continued money problems, possibly affecting relationships with friends and family members. Those relationship might also be affected because an adolescent is spending so much time playing online or at casinos or among gambling peers, rather than with family. There might also be the beginning signs of criminal activity in order to pay off gambling debts, which could lead to jail time and further criminal activity. An adolescent might also become associated with dangerous individuals who might become threatening if debts are not paid off.


The following are red flags to look for in someone you suspect might be developing a gambling addiction:

  • Selling personal belongings
  • Borrows money and does not return the loan
  • Stealing and lying to friends and family
  • Possessing large amounts of money without good explanation
  • Possessing a great deal of debt
  • Receiving a number of phone calls from strangers
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Growing absences from school or work
  • Making frequent calls to 900 gambling numbers.
  • Spending large amounts of hours online


Gambling can be a fun social activity that adolescents participate in from time to time. However, when the above red flags are present, then the activity has gone from a social one to a pathological one and, like any addiction, necessitates treatment.


One teenager said that gambling slowly turned into a problem for him. He was at a time in his life when he was feeling broken, lost, and shameful. Gambling became such an intense experience, not to mention an experience that he could get lost in, that all of the sudden he couldn’t stop playing. He was gambling all the time, even in the middle of the night when he would climb out of bed and to his computer where he could 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.


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. If you feel like you might have a problem, tell an adult you trust and/or contact a mental health professional who can adequately provide a diagnosis, if you have one. From there, getting the right help for gambling addiction can begin.



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Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.

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