Gambling Addiction in Teens

While online gambling on pokies, casino games and some other products is illegal in Australia, online gambling on betting products is permitted. These products are also heavily marketed online. A 2014 study on the prevalence of gambling showed that the majority of people who bet on sports had done it via online betting.

Young people have been observed to gamble online more than adults, as the screening process is almost non-existent and the accessibility/functionality of devices makes gambling easier. In one study, 60 per cent of young people who gambled had done so online.

Mobile gambling

Current studies show that 95 per cent of adolescents aged 14 to 17 have almost constant access to a smartphone, 90 per cent of which use their mobile phone to go online frequently.

Smartphones have made Mobile gambling a very accessible vice for young people to get addicted to. Online betting operators increasingly use apps that include features like personalised notifications about promotions and special offers.

It is unclear how many young people are using betting apps, given by law they can only be accessed by people over 18. However, studies have consistently shown that a large portion of young people bet on sports through the anonymity of online.

Loot boxes and Microtransactions

Loot boxes are items in video games that contain randomised contents and can be purchased with real-world money. Similarities between loot boxes and forms of gambling have led to questions about their legal status, and whether they should be regulated as gambling, as the psychological and structural features of loot boxes seem to be strongly shared by most standard forms of gambling.

The behaviour of Loot boxes involves staking real-world money on the chance outcome of a future in-game event. Several international regulatory authorities have noted that there are striking similarities between this behaviour and gambling. This has led to various investigations across the globe of whether loot boxes in video games constitute an illegal and unlicensed form of gambling.

The specific form of gambling-related harm that is most commonly associated with loot boxes is problem gambling. Problem gambling refers to disordered and excessive gambling activities that are so extreme that they lead to significant problems in an individual’s personal, family and professional lives. Problem gambling is linked to factors such as depression, anxiety, bankruptcy and suicide. One key pathway to the development of problem gambling is via conditioning: the more individuals are exposed to the “high” associated with gambling activities, the more they come to expect and require this excitement, leading to the disordered and excessive patterns of gambling-related spending. This pathway to problem gambling is considered to be a particular risk among adolescents. Indeed, exposure to gambling activities in childhood and teenage years, is an important predictor of problem gambling among future adults.

There are strong reasons to believe that loot boxes may be ‘psychologically akin’ to gambling itself, and exposure to these loot boxes may be creating negative habits and behaviours that can be associated with problem gambling amongst children. There are Five specific characteristics that differentiate gambling from other risk-related behaviours and they are:

  1. The exchange of money or something of value.
  2. A future event determines the results of this exchange, and the outcome of this event is unknown at the time that a bet is made.
  3. Chance at least partly determines the outcome of the exchange.
  4. Losses can be avoided by simply not taking part.
  5. Winners gain at the sole expense of losers.

Adolescents as a group seem particularly susceptible to problem gambling. Indeed, problem gambling is often estimated to be more prevalent among adolescents than it is in adult populations. There are several explanations for why adolescents might be more likely to develop problem gambling than adults. For example, developmental research suggests that the immaturity of various aspects of a young brain structure and function are linked to increased impulsivity among adolescents. Similarly, research into coping strategies among adolescents suggests that this group may lack effective ways to cope with the ‘turbulent times’ that are associated with their time of life. They may therefore turn to gambling activities as a way to escape from painful states, leading to the development of gambling as a crutch.

Most Young People have Gambled

There are particular risks, in surveying young people around the topic of gambling. This is due to participants possibly sharing inaccurate information. This occurs quite often with younger survey participants, as they often forget relevant information or they bend their responses in order to have them reflect better upon themselves. Also, factors as simple as boredom and frustration can lead to artificial results.

Yet, despite these possible survey limitations, Australian studies still manage to consistently result in 60 to 80 per cent of adolescents having experienced either one-off or on-going forms of gambling.

Under-age gambling has also been found to be relatively common in countries similar to Australia, such as Canada, the United States, Great Britain and New Zealand.

Harm from Gambling

Young people may be particularly vulnerable to gambling harm as their ability to assess risk is still developing.

According to Australian research, approximately one in every 25 young people (roughly a student per classroom) meet the clinical definition of problem gambling.

Rates of problem gambling are not directly comparable between adolescents and adults, yet, it is estimated that rates of problem gambling could be as much as five times higher among young people than in adults.

A recent study has found that young gamblers are also greatly susceptible to resulting harm from their activities including:

• poor academic performance

• absenteeism from school and early school dropout

• disrupted relationships with family and friends.

Gambling problems combined with other conditions

The relationship between gambling problems and a variety of other conditions, including mental illness, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse, is complex. An adolescent with a gambling problem is more likely to have depression or think about suicide, and to have lower self-esteem, than a young person without a gambling problem. They are also more likely to engage in risky or antisocial behaviour, such as alcohol and drug use, theft and vandalism.

It is not always clear whether these conditions are caused by gambling problems or are present before they develop. It is likely issues such as mental illness or substance abuse are risk factors for problem gambling, and also worsened by it. But regardless of whether it is a cause or an effect of broader issues, harmful gambling often signals other problematic habits working in tandem.

Gambler’s Help Youthline

The foundation’s Gambler’s Help Youthline offers specialist telephone support for young people who may be experiencing harm because of their own or someone else’s gambling. One of the most effective ways to battle addictive behaviour, is to be as honest and up-front about it as possible.

When seeking help, when looking for input, always approach a trusted parent, guardian, adult, mentor or authority figure, for healthy assistance. Professional help is always strongly recommended, especially in the case of addictive behaviour.

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