Why do young people get addicted to gambling?

Understanding how young people feel about gambling and why they start playing can help identify ways to prevent gambling problems. A study published this month in the International Gambling Studies journal reveals some of the reasons why young people begin to gamble and what keeps them at it. This is important information for policy-makers and program developers working with youth.

What did the research say?


A research team led by Dr Sally Gainsbury from Southern Cross University interviewed 201 regular gamblers aged 11–24 years and found that: ‘…most adolescents and emerging adults reported they initially started gambling out of curiosity or for social reasons.’ ‘…many reported they continued to gamble because it was exciting or pleasurable, gave them something to do if bored, helped them escape or calm down, and kept them occupied.’

Dr Gainsbury said the main reasons young people gambled were having fun and making friends. The research shows that gambling can become a habit for individuals who seek new experiences or enjoy the excitement. Other types of youth leisure activities such as getting drunk, taking drugs, having casual sex, playing sports and surfing the Internet are also often high on life’s list of priorities among teenagers. Research from other parts of the world confirms this. In a European study involving 9,000 students aged 13–14 years old, friendship was reported as more important than money when deciding which activity they preferred – going bowling with friends or going on their own!

The similarities between gaming and gambling – and the overlapping conditions that may contribute to both types of problems warrant further investigation.

Another interesting finding from this new research is that some young people turn to gambling as a strategy for coping with anxiety and stress, sometimes due to family violence or other traumas experienced in childhood. Evidence suggests that those who gamble for these reasons initially do so because it helps them unwind, relax and escape negative emotions (not necessarily, because it triggers positive ones). As such, gambling is an avoidance tactic – a way of coping with life rather than confronting their problems head-on. This behaviour can then escalate into addiction, with serious consequences on mental health and wellbeing. 

Why does gambling seem like fun to children and teenagers?

Parents, teachers and other adults need to educate themselves about the risks of gambling. For example, did you know that nearly half of young people surveyed in Australia said they had gambled online? This is particularly worrying considering you can gamble 24 hours a day on websites offering games such as poker, blackjack and roulette, which are easily accessible at home or on mobile phones. Did you also know that some teenagers use their phone credit to place bets? Many children are using their parent’s accounts without their knowledge. Unsupervised gaming on the Internet is rife with opportunities for underage gamblers to lose money they cannot afford to lose. Such hidden activity may be more common than many think, particularly in digital forms of gambling.

What are gambling addiction and problem gambling? 


There is a growing body of evidence that gambling can be used as a coping mechanism for those suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This may explain why some young people find themselves turning to gambling as a way of escaping their problems, even though they know it’s not good for them. 

Although some teenagers experiment with gambling and end up either losing or gaining some money, the majority will never develop an addiction or experience serious negative consequences as a result – because their reasons for engaging in the activity were simply experimental. However, between 1-5% (depending on which study you look at) of adolescents and emerging adults (aged 11–24 years) will develop problem gambling issues that require professional help to manage. In Australia, problem gambling can lead to a variety of social and health problems and relationship difficulties with family members. 

What are the early signs of a potential problem? 

How to recognize whether your child has a gambling addiction or not? If you find below the sign-in your children or loved ones, it may be time for them to seek professional help:

Gambling becomes a priority – they focus on it at the expense of other activities such as schoolwork, spending time with friends and family, hobbies, sports etc. They lie about how much they gamble or spend unnecessarily on lottery tickets or scratchies. They use the money for bills or expenses (e.g., food, rent or transport) to gamble. They borrow money to finance their gambling (parents, friends etc.) They skip classes, schoolwork or work to engage in gambling activities. Due to their habit, they experience financial problems (e.g., unpaid loans). 

Myths and Facts about Gambling Problems?


There are many myths about the causes and implications of gambling addiction. Many people believe that problem gambling is a single issue that affects a very small percentage of the population. However, recent research shows that 1-5% of young people aged between 11 – 24 years have gambling problems. Other popular misconceptions include:

MYTH: Young people can’t be “hooked” on slot machines 

Fact: Young people certainly can become addicted to playing games such as poker machines, but they do not only play slot machines. These days it is much easier for children and teenagers to gamble online or by using their mobile phones without their parents’ awareness. Myths exist about all types of casino games, including those involving cards, dice, sports betting etc., which means that parents may not even know where to look.

MYTH: Youth gambling is a victimless crime 

Fact: Gambling problems affect the whole community, not just those experiencing them. They can lead to relationship breakdowns and financial difficulties and impact education, employment and mental health issues. 

MYTH: Young people who gamble are financially irresponsible 

Fact: Some young people spend money on unnecessary things such as lottery tickets or scratchies. However, if children gamble with their own money, they are less likely to develop problem gambling issues since they do it for fun rather than trying to escape from any problems.

MYTH: Teens don’t have enough disposable income 

Fact: Gambling companies target youth because they recognize the value of this demographic in terms of their potential to become regular customers. They spend money on gambling activities for different reasons, such as peer pressure, curiosity, and boredom. 

MYTH: Children and young adults don’t develop addiction problems 

Fact: Young people may not realize that they have a problem until years after becoming addicted to gambling. Gambling companies use targeted advertising and other techniques to encourage customers to try their products, so it is easy for children and young people to develop an addiction without knowing they are at risk. 

Why do young people get addicted to gambling? 1

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