Warning signs of a gambling addiction - AmericaNowNews.com

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Warning signs of a gambling addiction

Did you know living within 10 miles of a casino doubles your risk of problem gambling? An alarming finding by the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo.

And another is that 750,000 young Americans between the ages of 14 and 21 are already problem gamblers. Here's how to recognize the signs of a gambling disorder.

27-year-old Steve Bell 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," says Bell, "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."

Steve's case is not unusual. In fact, gambling is now the fastest growing addiction among adolescents and teenagers.

Kathy Marks of the Beit T'Shuvah Treatment Center says, "Technology has the most significant impact, I think, on the rise for teenage gambling. It's so accessible. You can do it on your smart phone. You can do it on your computer. It's much more accessible than getting drugs or alcohol, for someone who's underage."

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, as many as 8% of American adolescents currently have a serious gambling problem. And, with the rise of online gambling, it's never been easier for young people to place a bet.

"I started gambling on sports. You know, allowance, lunch money," says Bell, "And that progressed to the point where I was in college, I was going to the racetrack a lot, I had a bookie and I was playing in private card games. I started playing Internet poker.

By the middle of his freshman year, Steve fit the profile of a pathological gambler.

Dr. Timothy Fong of the UCLA gambling studies program is one of the leading experts on gambling addiction.

"Pathological gambling is very simply a brain disease," says Fong, "It's characterized by ongoing and repeated gambling despite adverse consequences. The person with gambling addiction creates harm for themselves, their families. We have patients go one night of gambling and will lose an entire year's worth of earnings."

Dr. Fong has teamed with Dr. John O'Doherty of Cal tech on a groundbreaking study to see how an addict's brain is altered while gambling.

"One idea that we have is the ventral striatum is known to receive input from a class of neurons called dopamine neurons. And that's a brain chemical that's released when we are in rewarding situations. And one possibility is that maybe this system that releases dopamine into this ventral striatum area is somehow changed or altered in people that are experiencing pathological gambling," says O'Doherty.

"I'm hoping that our results will be able to help what I do in treatment. And to give people a better understanding of what's going on in their brain," says Fong.

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 somebody in accounting from my company who saw company credit card statements came forward. Which later on led me to prison," says Bell.

"It can be hard to detect," says Fong, "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, to say ‘Well, why is this person really struggling?'"

Could your child have a gambling problem? here are five warning signs.

  1. They're online for long periods of time
  2. They lose interest in friends and activities
  3. Their schoolwork declines
  4. They're restless or irritable
  5. You're missing money, jewelry or electronics

If your child exhibits one or more of these signs, consider the possibility they may need help with a gambling addiction.

Identifying a gambling problem early is the key to successful treatment. And, like other compulsive addictions, outside help may be the only way a young person can stop.

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