In the US, we recently had a huge multimillion dollar jackpot lottery. The large sum of money was covered by all the major news stations and people flocked to super markets to buy their lucky numbers. Though this jackpot is not typical, we do have many more opportunities for gambling with the explosion of the internet and cell phone apps than in the past. As adults, we may not see a risk in spending a dollar for the opportunity to win millions (even if that opportunity is miniscule). For teens, virtual games may be fun and harmless. Playing for points instead of money does not seem like a problem and spending a dollar on a lotto ticket isn’t bad for us, but could it be?

A recent article in a medical journal explored the idea that excessive “gaming” or participating in online games can be a problem. They compared the behavior as similar to addiction, in that teens who game may be socially withdrawn from friends, may crave the game (get a thrill or ‘high’ from playing), and may pursue time online instead of interactions with peers and family.  In addition, teens who gamble may be at increased risk for depression or co-occurring substance use (like alcohol or other drugs).

This is not to say that all teens who download a poker app on their cell phone will become addicted to the game. Or that teens who play Words with Friends on Facebook will become socially withdrawn. However, to me, the article highlights the idea that the virtual games we play, the $1 lottery ticket, betting on fantasy football, or a poker night with friends may have some risk.

So what are warning signs that gambling or gaming are becoming a problem for your teen?

  • Playing for money or noticing your teen has more money than expected
  • Using the games as a way to ‘escape’ feelings of sadness or depression
  • withdrawing from friends and/or family
  • Neglecting responsibilities (like homework or chores) in order to play
  • using alcohol or drugs
  • declining grades
  • increased arguments with family

Check out these resources if you feel your teen may have a gambling problem:

Addicted Teen

Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery

National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers