Today’s blog is the second part of a two-part article (the first of which can be found here). The previous blog briefly examined risk factors in adolescent gamblers and signs of problem gambling in adolescents. The three lists below highlight some early warning signs of a possible gambling problem, some definite signs and a thumbnail profile of a problem gambler. This is followed by some (hopefully) helpful tips and hints.
Early warning signs of a gambling addiction
- Unexplained absences from home
- Continual lying about day-to-day movements
- Constant shortage of money
- General increase in secretiveness
- Neglect of studies, family, friends, health and appearance
- Agitation (if unable to gamble)
- Mood swings
- Loss of friends and social life
- Gambling seen as a legitimate way of making money
Signs of a definite gambling problem
- Large debts (which are always explained away)
- Trouble at school or college about non-attendance
- Unexplained borrowing from family and friends
- Unwillingness to repay borrowed money
- Total preoccupation with gambling and spending money on gambling
- Gambling alone for long periods
- Constantly chasing losses in an attempt to win money back
- Constantly gambling until all money is gone
- Complete alienation and rejection from family and friends
- Lying about the extent of their gambling to family and friends
- Committing crimes as a way of getting money for gambling or paying off debts
- Gambling overriding all other interests and obligations
Profile of the problem adolescent gambler
- Unwilling to accept reality and has a lack of responsibility for gambling
- Gambles to escape deeper problems (and the gambling environment may even be a substitute for parental affection)
- Insecure and feels inferior to parents and elders
- Wants good things without making an effort and loves games of chance
- Likes to be a ‘big shot’ and feels it’s important to win (gambling offers them status and a way of defining achievement)
- Likes to compete
- Feels guilty with losses acting as a punishing behaviour
- May be depressed
- Low self-esteem and confidence
- Other compulsive and/or addictive traits
Finally it is worth noting some of the ‘trigger’ situations and circumstances that a gambling problem might first come to light. Paul Bellringer has highlighted an array of situations that provide an opportunity to help the gambler focus on their need to change. These are:
- Acceptance by the gambler that control has been lost: This is the step before they ask for help.
- Asking for help: Having realised for themselves that gambling has taken control over their life, they may reach out to those closest to them
- Observation of too much time spent in a gambling environment: Such observations by friends or family may provoke discussion as to how this is affecting the life of a gambler.
- Getting in to financial trouble/Accumulation of debts: This might be a crisis point at which problem gambling might raise its head for the first time.
- Uncovered lies: Realization that the gambler has been caught lying may lead to admissions about their gambling problems
- Dwindling social circles/Losing close relationships: These observation may again lead to problem gambling being discovered by family or friends.
- Discovered crime: This is usually a real crisis point that the family may discover the truth for the first time.
- Homelessness: Being thrown out of the family home may be the trigger for problem gamblers to be honest for the first time about the mess they are in.
Discovering that you are the parent of an adolescent problem gambler can be highly stressful – particularly as it is often a problem that parents feel they have to face on their own. Before getting involved with their children parents have to understand the problem as well as the process of problem gambling. By the time a young gambler acknowledges they have a problem, the family may have already gone through a lot of emotional turmoil including feelings of anger, sadness, puzzlement and guilt. Parents should try and get in touch with a helping agency as soon as possible. The following points are appropriate for parents either during or as a follow-up to their initial contact with a helping agency.
- Remember that you are not the only family facing this problem.
- You may be able to help your child by talking the problem through but it is probably better if a skilled person outside the family is also involved.
- Keep in mind that it is a serious matter and that the gambler cannot “just give up”.
- Take a firm stand; whilst it might feel easier to give in to demands and to believe everything they say, this allows your child to avoid facing the problem.
- Remember that your child likes to gamble and is getting something from the activity quite apart from money.
- Do not forget that gamblers are good at lying – to themselves as well as you
- Let your child know that you believe it is a problem even though they may not admit it.
- Encourage your child all the time as they have to be motivated to change
- Be prepared to accept that your child may not be motivated to change until they are faced with an acute crisis.
- Leave the responsibility for gambling and its consequences with the gambler, but also help them to face up to it and to work at overcoming the dependency.
- Do not condemn them, as it is likely to be unhelpful and may drive them further into gambling.
- Setting firm and fair boundaries for your child’s behaviour is appropriate and is likely to be constructive in providing a framework with which to address the dependency.
- Despite what your child may have done it is important to let them know that you still love them. This should be done even if you have to make a ‘tough love’ decision such as asking them to leave home.
- Do not trust them with money until the dependency has been broken. If they are agreeable it is a helpful strategy for a defined short period of time to manage their money for them. In addition, help develop their financial management skills.
- Encourage other alternative activities. Try to identify other activities that the child is good at and encourage them in that.
- Give praise for any achievements (however small) although don’t go over the top.
- Provide opportunities to contribute to the family or the running of the house to develop responsibility.
- Try to listen with understanding and look at them with pleasure. Communication channels between child and parent can easily be blocked so simple measures can pay big dividends.
- Bear in mind that as a parent you will need support too through this long process of helping the child. You will need the support of your family and may also need additional support from a helping agency.
Having successfully broken a dependency on gambling, it is important to put in place measures that will help prevent gambling relapses. Useful strategies include the following:
- Place a limit on future gambling, or avoid gambling altogether.
- Internalise learning and avoid reverting to ingrained reactions to difficult or stressful situations.
- Watch for situations and circumstances that trigger the urge to gamble and be ready to face them.
- Nurture self-esteem – work at feeling good about yourself.
- Develop a range of interests that, preferably, meet similar needs to those that were previously being met by gambling.
- Spend time and energy working at building good human relationships.
- Reassess the significance of money and endeavour to reduce its importance in your life.
- Continue to explore, on occasion, reasons why gambling became so significant in your life.
Other more general steps that gamblers should be encouraged to do include:
- Be honest with themselves and others
- Deal with all outstanding debts
- Accept responsibility for their gambling
- Abstain from gambling while trying to break the dependency
- Talk about how gambling makes them feel
- Take one day at a time
- Keep a record of ‘gambling-free’ days
- Be positive and not give up after a ‘slip’ or a ‘lapse’
- Reward themselves after a gambling-free period
- Develop alternative interests
Parents and practitioners should also be aware that problems are likely to be avoided when the young gambler keeps in control of the situation and ensures that their gambling remains a social activity. The following brief guide is aimed particularly for working with young gamblers but applicable to everyone. It will help ensure that gambling remains an enjoyable and problem-free experience. It is wise to remember that:
- When you are gambling you are buying entertainment, not investing money
- You are unlikely to make money from gambling
- The gaming industry and the government are the real winners
- You should only gamble with money that you can afford to lose
- You should set strict limits on how much you will gamble
- To make profit from gambling you should quit when ahead
- Gambling should only take up a small amount of your time and interest
- Problems will arise if you become preoccupied with gambling
- Gambling within your means is a fun and exciting activity
- Gambling outside your means is likely to create serious problems
- You should not gamble to escape from worries or pressures
- The feeling of being powerful and in control when gambling is a delusion
- A gambling dependency is as damaging as other addictions
- Always gamble responsibly
Hopefully the two parts of this blog have highlighted a potential danger among children and adolescence. It covered risk factors, warning signs to look for, and strategies to help those with a problem. Through education and awareness, it is hoped that gambling problems will be viewed no differently from other potentially addictive substances and that schools will take the issue seriously.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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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.
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