Slots of fun: What should parents and teachers know about adolescent gambling? (Part 1)

Research has consistently shown that a small but significant minority of adolescents have a gambling problem. It has also been noted that adolescents may be more susceptible to problem gambling than adults. In Great Britain, the most recent statistics suggest that around 2% of adolescents have a gambling problem. This figure is two to three times higher than that identified in the adult population. On this evidence, young people are clearly more vulnerable to the negative consequences of gambling than adults.

A typical finding of many adolescent gambling studies has been that problem gambling appears to be a primarily male phenomenon. It also appears that adults may to some extent be fostering adolescent gambling. For example, a strong correlation has been found between adolescent gambling and parental gambling. Similarly, many studies have indicated a strong link between adult problem gamblers and later problem gambling amongst their children. Other factors that have been linked with adolescent problem gambling include working class youth culture, delinquency, alcohol and substance abuse, poor school performance, theft and truancy.

One consequence of the research into adolescent gambling is that we can now start to put together a ‘risk factor model’ of those individuals who might be at the most risk of developing problem gambling tendencies. Based on summaries of empirical research, a number of clear risk factors in the development of problem adolescent gambling emerge. Adolescent problem gamblers are more likely to:

  • Be male (16-25 years)
  • Have begun gambling at an early age (as young as 8 years of age)
  • Have had a big win earlier in their gambling careers
  • Consistently chase losses
  • Gamble on their own
  • Have parents who gamble
  • Feel depressed before a gambling session
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Use gambling to cultivate status among peers
  • Be excited and aroused during gambling
  • Be irrational (i.e. have erroneous perceptions) during gambling
  • Use gambling as a means of escape
  • Have bad grades at school
  • Engage in other addictive behaviours (smoking, drinking alcohol, illegal drug use)
  • Come from the lower social classes
  • Have parents who have a gambling (or other addiction) problem
  • Have a history of delinquency
  • Steal money to fund their gambling
  • Truant from school to go gambling

There are also some general background factors that might increase the risk of becoming a problem gambler. Common factors include:

  • Broken, disruptive or very poor family
  • Difficult and stressful situations within the home
  • Heavy emphasis on money within the family
  • The death of a parent or parental figure in their childhood
  • Serious injury or illness in the family or themselves
  • Infidelity by parents
  • High incidence of abuse (verbal, physical and/or sexual)
  • Feeling of rejection as a child
  • Feelings of belittlement and disempowerment

This list is probably not exhaustive but incorporates what is known empirically and anecdotally about adolescent problem gambling. As research into the area grows, new items to such a list will be added while factors, signs and symptoms already on these lists will be adapted and modified. Gambling has often been termed the ‘hidden addiction’. The main reasons for this arise from the problem with the identification. This is because:

  • There are no observable signs or symptoms like other addictions (e.g. alcoholism, heroin addiction etc.)
  • Money shortages and debts can be explained away with ease in a materialistic society
  • Adolescent gamblers do not believe they have a problem or wish to hide the fact
  • Adolescent gamblers are exceedingly plausible and become adept at lying to mask the truth
  • Adolescent gambling may be only one of several excessive behaviours

Although there have been some reports of a personality change in young gamblers many parents may attribute the change to adolescence itself (i.e., evasive behaviour, mood swings etc. are commonly associated with adolescence). It is quite often the case that many parents do not even realize they have a problem until their son or daughter is in trouble with the police. I have noted there are a number of possible warning signs to look for although individually, many of these signs could be put down to adolescence. However, if several of them apply to a child or adolescent it could be that they will have a gambling problem. The signs include:

  • No interest in school highlighted by a sudden drop in the standard of schoolwork
  • Unexplained free time such as going out each evening and being evasive about where they have been
  • Coming home later than expected from school each day and not being able to account for it
  • A marked change in overall behaviour (that perhaps only a parent would notice). Such personality changes could include becoming sullen, irritable, restless, moody, touchy, bad-tempered or constantly on the defensive
  • Constant shortage of money
  • Constant borrowing of money
  • Money missing from home (e.g., from mother’s purse or father’s wallet)
  • Selling personal possessions and not being able to account for the money
  • Criminal activity (e.g., shoplifting in order to sell things to get money for gambling)
  • Coming home hungry each afternoon after school (because lunch money has been spent on gambling)
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Lack of concentration
  • A “couldn’t care less” attitude
  • Lack of friends and/or falling out with friends
  • Not taking care of their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Constantly telling lies (particularly over money)

However, many of these ‘warning signs’ are not necessarily unique to gambling addictions and can also be indicative of other addictions (e.g. alcohol and other drugs). Confirming that gambling is indeed the problem may prove equally as difficult as spotting the problem in the first place. Directly asking an individual if they have a problem is likely to lead to an outright denial. Talking with them about their use of leisure time, money and spending preferences, and their view about gambling in general is likely to be more effective. Part 2 to follow in my next blog!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bellringer, P. (1999). Understanding Problem Gamblers. London : Free Association Books.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing Adolescent Risk: Toward An Integrated Approach (pp. 223-238). London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Adolescent gambling in Great Britain. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers. 58(1), 7-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. & Linsey, A. (2006). Adolescent gambling: Still a cause for concern? Education and Health, 24, 9-11.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2000). Risk factors in adolescence: The case of gambling, video-game playing and the internet. Journal of Gambling Studies, 16, 199-225.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on November 3, 2014, in Addiction, Adolescence, Case Studies, Compulsion, Cyberpsychology, Gambling, Gambling addiction, Gender differences, I.T., Lottery, Obsession, Online gambling, Poker, Problem gamblng, Psychological disorders, Psychology, Technological addiction, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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