Help teens understand gambling risks

Both the recent Super Bowl and the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament (March Madness) are huge events on the calendar of American sports fans. They are also sporting events with a tremendous amount of betting commonly associated with them.

Unfortunately, there are people who have great difficulty making a friendly wager and moving on. For some, the urge to gamble becomes strong and begins to take over many aspects of life. When the problem becomes serious, people can begin to lose money, possessions, relationships, even their health. Adults are not the only ones who are susceptible; in reality, adolescents are two to four times more likely to develop a problem with gambling than adults (Gupta and Derevensky, 2000). The N.Y. Council on Problem Gambling reports that teens who gamble are:

Over 50 percent more likely to drink alcohol;

More than twice as likely to binge drink;

More than three times as likely to use marijuana;

Three times as likely to use other illegal drugs;

Almost three times as likely to get in trouble with the police;

Almost three times as likely to steal or shoplift.

What makes the risk of gambling problems greater for teens? The following characteristics, typical of teens, increase this risk for all adolescents:

Impulsivity;

Susceptibility to peer influence;

Increasing sense of individual identity;

Lack of understanding of the downside to gambling;

Greater risk taking (particularly in groups);

Greater propensity toward low-effort/high-excitement activities;

Lower capacity for weighing consequences.

You can help your teens avoid the consequences of problem gambling by letting them know, first of all, that it does come with serious consequences. Brainstorm with them to find other, more appropriate outlets for their natural risk-taking and propensity toward excitement. Work with them to identify other ways to assert their individuality and to connect with their peers.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing problems as a result of gambling, help is available from a variety of sources. You can call St. Mary’s Addiction Services at 627-4728 or 843-4410, or the state Hopeline at 1-877-8-HOPENY. For more information, resources and links, call the HFM Prevention Council at 736-8188 or visit the New York Council on Problem Gambling website at www.nyproblemgambling.org or www.knowtheodds.org.

STEPHANIE COOK

HFM Prevention Council

Johnstown