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Teens and Problem Gambling

​​​​​​​What is problem gambling?

Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that is causing trouble in your life or the lives of people close to you (like parents, brothers and sisters, or friends). If your gambling is causing you to miss school or work, have arguments with family or friends, or worry about money you have lost, gambling is a problem for you.

Is gambling a problem for most people?

No. Most people gamble responsibly, with no problems. But for some, gambling becomes a very important part of their lives and does become a problem. Gambling problems can range from minor to quite serious. Gambling can cause the odd problem like making it hard to pay the utility bill, the rent, or a credit card bill. Sometimes these problems get bigger and more serious, like causing a lot of debt, problems with friends and family, and even doing things that are illegal.

What are some things people with gambling problems have in common?

People with gambling problems:

  • more likely to be male
  • gamble more often
  • usually bet larger amounts on all forms of gambling
  • spend more time per gambling session
  • are more likely to have been in trouble with the police
  • more likely to say they have been rejected by family members

Who is most likely to develop gambling problems?

There’s no way of knowing who will develop a gambling problem. Anyone who gambles can develop a gambling problem. People with gambling problems can be rich or poor, young or old, male or female; there is just no way of telling ahead of time. Plus, many people gamble without ever having a problem. They buy a lottery or raffle ticket, go to the racetrack or an evening of bingo, and drop the odd loonie into a VLT. When the raffle or the game is over, they go on to other non-gambling activities.

Do some teenagers develop problems with gambling?

Yes. In a 2008 survey of Alberta students in grades 7 to 12, just over 2%, so about 2 out of every 100 students surveyed showed signs of problem gambling. About 3.5% or almost 4 out of every 100 students showed signs of being at risk for developing problems with gambling. Research shows the younger you are when you start gambling the more likely it is that you will develop a gambling problem.

What are some types of behaviour seen in people with a gambling problem?

There are many. Remember though: not every gambler is a problem gambler, and not every person with a gambling problem will show all these types of behaviour. Someone with a gambling problem:

  • may be secretive or defensive about money.
  • may borrow money from family members or friends.
  • may put all their hopes on the big win. They believe the big win, rather than changing their gambling behaviour, will solve financial or other problems.
  • may promise to cut back on gambling, but they may find themselves unable to reduce or stop gambling. They often return the next day or a few days later to try and win their money back.
  • may have a lot of emotional highs and lows.
  • miss the “thrill” and become be bad-tempered, withdrawn, depressed, or restless if they can’t gamble.
  • love to relive wins but will make light of losses when others say they’re concerned. Wins and losses may also be kept a secret.
  • may rather gamble than spend time with friends, and may miss special family events.

How does someone know if they have a problem with gambling?

While there’s no way of knowing who will develop a gambling problem, there are warning signs. Some of these signs can come early in the problem, and some may show up later:

  • spending more time or money on gambling than you meant to
  • trying to win back money you’ve lost
  • feeling badly about the way you gamble or about what happens when you gamble
  • hearing from others that they’re worried about your gambling
  • telling others that you’re winning money from betting when you really aren’t
  • wanting to quit gambling, but thinking you might not be able to
  • hiding your gambling from friends, family, or others
  • skipping school or work to gamble
  • borrowing or stealing money for gambling

For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Help Line.

Current as of: April 11, 2019

Author: Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services