March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, so let’s have a serious talk about gambling. And by gambling, I’m referring to the activity of betting: the practice of risking money or other valuables in a game or bet. Gambling is taking on a risk with the hope of an uncertain gain. Some examples of gambling are betting on sports teams or card games for money, playing the lottery and using online gambling sites.
Why do people gamble? Gambling can be a form of fun or entertainment. Some teens only gamble during games among friends, and keep the risk low by using only tokens, treats, or small change. The activity of gambling is not necessarily a problem, as long as it is managed well.
Why is this important? Evidence indicates that about 6% of teens under the age of 18 have a serious gambling problem. That doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but what that means is that in a class of 30 people, 1-2 of your classmates are facing this challenge. About 80% of youth have participated in some form of gambling, and 10-15% are at risk of gambling becoming an addiction.
How can gambling become a problem? Gambling can become risky in several ways. One is when it becomes obsessive. The reality of gambling is that you are much more likely to lose money than you are to win. Over time, very few people come out ahead financially with gambling. However, after losing money, the common reaction is to “play again” in an attempt to win back losses. This almost never works. Instead, more money is lost.
Gambling also becomes a problem when it starts to become addictive. Gambling can actually activate the brain’s reward system, much like addictive substances. Someone with a gambling addiction feels a need to continue gambling.
What happens when gambling becomes a problem? People experiencing gambling challenges put their future success at risk. Instead of having money to reach life goals and pay living expenses, it becomes lost to gambling organizations. People addicted to gambling sometimes resort to stealing from friends and family, and often start to suffer from depression and poor health.
What can you do? Nobody intends to have a gambling problem, or hurt themselves, their friends, and their family. If you or someone you care about is facing life challenges caused by gambling, talk ASAP to a trusted counselor. Confidential help is available on-line, or by calling 1-800-GAMBLER.