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Adolescent Gambling: A Growing Concern

Adolescent gambling has turned into a difficult issue that can have huge negative ramifications for the individual, family, and communities.

A representative sample of 2,274 US residents aged 14–21 participated in a random telephone survey. Findings revealed that 68% had engaged in gambling in the past year, with 11% doing so more than twice per week. The rates of problem and pathological gambling were comparatively lower than those observed in a prior adult survey that employed the same questionnaire (Welte et al., 2007).

teenager gambling on her phone

Gambling among adolescents can take several forms, including access to online gambling websites and apps, which offer a wide range of options, including casino-style games, sports betting, and online lotteries. These platforms are often easily accessible and may not have strong age verification measures. Informal gambling activities include card games, dice games, or betting on sports events among themselves or peers. Older friends or family members can purchase lottery tickets and scratch cards. Social media and gaming where users can buy and sell virtual items, loot boxes, or engage in other forms of simulated gambling.

Adolescents may engage in gambling for various reasons, including the thrill and excitement of risk-taking, and the potential for winning can be appealing to adolescents who seek thrill and novelty. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in with peers who gamble may contribute to adolescents’ involvement in gambling activities. Some adolescents may turn to gambling as a way to escape boredom, stress, or other emotional challenges they are facing. A limited understanding of the potential consequences and risks associated with gambling may lead adolescents to participate without recognizing the long-term impact. Exposure to gambling through advertisements, movies, or online content can normalize the behavior and make it seem socially acceptable. Adolescents may also see gambling as a way to make quick money.

Several predetermined risk factors may also contribute to the development of problematic gambling behavior in adolescents. These factors include a family history of gambling problems or addictive behaviors. Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD. Adolescents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds as financial stressors can contribute to the appeal of gambling as a potential solution. Adolescents with impulsive tendencies may be more prone to problematic gambling. The use of substances, such as drugs or alcohol, is often associated with an increased risk of engaging in problematic gambling behavior. Insufficient parental monitoring and involvement in an adolescent’s life may also increase risk.

Understanding these factors can help parents, educators, and healthcare professionals identify and address potential issues before they escalate into problematic gambling behavior in adolescents.

The long-term dangers associated with adolescent gambling include gambling addictions, financial problems, mental health issues, emotional family distress, and legal consequences.

Adolescents may access gambling through online platforms, fake IDs, or by participating in informal or underground gambling activities. To address adolescent gambling, parents, educators, and communities need to take proactive steps to educate adolescents about the risks of gambling, monitor online activities, implement parental controls on devices, limit access to funds, be a role model, encourage healthy hobbies, and encourage open communication about finances and decision-making.

Warning signs of adolescent gambling may include sudden shifts in behavior, such as increased secrecy, mood swings, irritability, or withdrawal from family and friends. A noticeable decline in academic performance, missed assignments, or a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Unexplained money problems, frequent borrowing, or stealing to fund gambling activities. Constantly talking about or being preoccupied with gambling-related topics, even if it’s just casually discussing odds or strategies. Changes in Social or a shift in friendships, particularly if the new friends are involved in gambling activities. Items of value going missing, potentially sold or pawned to finance gambling. Engaging in deceptive behavior, such as lying about the extent of gambling involvement or hiding losses. Increased levels of stress, anxiety, or depression may be linked to gambling activities. Persistent attempts to recover losses through continued gambling, leading to a cycle of escalating bets. Neglecting responsibilities at home, school, or work due to a focus on gambling.

If you observe these warning signs in an adolescent, it’s essential to approach the situation with empathy and seek professional help from a mental health professional or a support organization specializing in gambling addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective therapy mode for treating gambling disorders. CBT aims to identify and modify unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors related to gambling. Motivational interviewing, a client-centered approach, can also enhance motivation to change. Family therapy may help address the impact of gambling disorder on relationships and involve loved ones in the recovery process. Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous also provide a sense of community and understanding. In severe cases, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or opioid antagonists may be considered in conjunction with therapy.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling-related issues, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. The National Problem Gambling Helpline is 1-800-522-4700. The helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The helpline is 100% confidential and connects the caller to local health and government organizations that can assist with their gambling addiction.

Richard Anemone has a master’s degree in psychology and is licensed as a mental health counselor in New York State. He owns a private practice, Behavioral Mental Health Counseling PLLC, in which he provides counseling as well as training, presentations, and technical support to individuals, families, groups, and organizations with a specialty in gambling addiction, anger management, intellectual developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disorders. Richard is also the Senior Vice President of the IDD division at ICL. ICL helps New Yorkers with behavioral health challenges live healthy and fulfilling lives by providing comprehensive housing, health care, and recovery services. He can be reached at


Welte, J. W., Barnes, G. M., Tidwell, M. O., & Hoffman, J. H. (2007). The Prevalence of Problem Gambling Among US Adolescents and Young Adults: Results from a National Survey. Journal of Gambling Studies, 24(2), 119–133.

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