Addiction does not require a substance such as alcohol, heroin, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. “Behavioral addictions such as gambling, overeating, television compulsion, and internet addiction are similar to drug addiction except that the individual is not addicted to a substance, but he/she is addicted to the behavior or the feeling experienced by acting out the behavior,” wrote Alavi, Ferdosi, et al. in their 2012 study “Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction.”
“Behavioral science experts believe that all entities capable of stimulating a person can be addictive; and whenever a habit changes into an obligation, it can be considered as an addiction,” the authors explained. People with a gambling addiction can’t control their urge to gamble, even if they are losing a lot of money. They are willing to risk something of value in the hope that the reward will be more valuable.
Wagering is now easier than ever in the US—for adults and children. “There’s a growing movement in the US to offer problem gambling education courses in public schools to teach teenagers how easily and quickly things can go wrong with betting,” the Associated Press reported in June.
The rapid expansion of legalized sports betting in more than 30 states has brought “steps designed to keep children from gambling, including age confirmation and identity checks. But teens can bypass betting restrictions and place wagers on their phones by using a parent or other relative’s account, or via unregulated offshore betting sites that can be less vigilant about age checks. And some teens have weekend poker games where hundreds of dollars are won or lost, often fueled by money from parents.”
The legal gambling age in many states is 21 but can be as low as 18 in others.
A 19-year-old who first spoke with “Good Morning America” last year, recently told GMA that he is still struggling with a gambling addiction despite three months in treatment and his continued work with Gamblers Anonymous.
Steve (not his real name) told GMA that despite initially resisting the temptation of sports gambling, he was once again swept up in the activity. He said the constant stream of advertisements kept gambling as a focus for him. “If you have a phone on you and you have connection to the internet, you can gamble whenever you want.”
The AP story featured a high school senior who “was gambling staggering sums of money on sports, costing him over $700,000 in the past decade. He hit rock bottom last year when he stole $35,000 from his workplace and gambled it away on international tennis and soccer matches—sports he admittedly knew nothing about.”
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 60–80 percent of high school students report having gambled for money during the past year. “Approximately 4–5 percent of youth, ages 12-17, meet one or more criteria of having a gambling problem. Another 10–14 percent are at risk of developing an addiction, which means that they already show signs of losing control over their gambling behavior.”
Instead of gambling, Steve, who said his addiction started when he was just 15, is now exercising, focusing on getting good grades, and working on the relationships in his life.
Since his relapse, he has been clean for some time now and plans to work with his sponsor while he is at college.
Dan Trolaro, vice president of prevention at EPIC Risk Management and a recovered compulsive gambler, told the AP that gambling is the logical next issue to address in the classroom. “We educate very well on alcohol, on substances, on stranger danger, on cannabis,” he said. “But we don’t do anything around gambling.”
There is now a new treatment option for teenagers at risk available in the Denver area. Avanti Behavioral Health recently launched an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for clients between the ages of 13 and 18 in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
We believe that recovery from addiction is a process that should involve the entire immediate family. We have developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030.