For many adults it's a fun pastime, but for more and more young people, it's becoming a significant mental health issue. Here's how to recognize a gambling disorder before it destroys an individual's life or worse -- an entire family.
Steve Bell, 27, is a recovering addict. His addiction isn't to drugs or alcohol. Steve is a compulsive gambler.
"I think when I started gambling was when I was around 11 or 12. I wasn't willing to race across the playground or have a contest on the monkey bars unless the loser was buying the winner a candy bar or, you know, a can of Coke or something like that," he says.
Steve's case is not unusual. In fact, gambling is now the fastest growing addiction among adolescents and teenagers.
"Technology has the most significant impact, I think, on the rise of teenage gambling," says Kathy Marks. "It's so accessible. You can do it on your smart phone. You can do it on your computer. You can do it anywhere. It's much more accessible than getting drugs or alcohol, for someone who's underage."
"I started gambling on sports. You know, allowance, lunch money, food for snacks whatever. And that progressed to the point where when I was in college, I was going to the race track a lot because the age limit to gamble was only seventeen. I started betting on sports on a daily basis. And that progressed until, when I was in college, I had a bookie and I was playing in private card games. I started playing Internet poker," adds Steve.
By the middle of his freshman year, he fit the profile of a pathological gambler.
Dr.Timothy Fong of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program says that "pathological gambling is very simply a brain disease. It's characterized by ongoing and repeated gambling despite adverse consequences."
Dr. Fong is one of the leading experts on gambling addiction.
"The person with gambling addiction creates harm for themselves, their families, society, and they keep on gambling," he says. "We have patients go one night of gambling and will lose an entire year's worth of earnings."
More than half of all pathological gamblers turn to crime to support their habit. Steve Bell embezzled money from his employer.
"The way I ultimately got caught was basically someone from accounting in my company who saw company credit card statements came forward. And from there the discussion was, ‘I think I have a serious problem.' Which later on led me to prison," Bell recalls.
Pathological gambling does run in families. Dr. Fond says that about 50 percent of the risk is genetic, so if a parent has problems controlling their gambling, there's a much higher risk that their child will as well.
"It can be hard to detect. It's not like drug and alcohol addiction where you can see it, where they're stumbling around, you know, they pass out. With gambling addiction, it's really up to people to piece it together," he adds.
Here are five warning signs of a gambling addict:
If your child or loved one exhibits one or more of these signs, consider the possibility they may need help with a gambling addiction.
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