There’s a good bet a local teen-ager has placed a wager on this week’s NBA finals. More than 40 percent of all Essex County students admit they have gambled in the past year, according to The Prevention Team. The numbers range from 15 percent of eighth graders to 53 percent of high school seniors.
continued “It’s all around us,” Gerardi said of gambling, “even right here. Every convenience store offers the lottery. It seems like every church and school is holding a raffle.”
Teens can be at the greatest risk in their own homes. Online gambling is especially dangerous, Gerardi said. Many sites offer free games to lure people into playing. Often those free games allow people to win to further entice them.
“It’s very easy to gamble,” she said. “Then, gradually, a problem develops.”
Gambling addictions are real, Gerardi said.
“Many people think gambling is just a bad habit, that they can quit at any time,” she said. “It can be an addiction, just like alcohol or drugs, with psychological and physiological aspects. There are specific treatments for people with gambling addictions.”
Brain scans of cocaine addicts are very similar to those of compulsive gamblers, Gerardi pointed out.
“That means it’s not just a matter of willpower,” she said. “Problem gamblers need help.”
Teens are at greater risk of becoming gambling addicts than adults, according to studies, because they are impulsive, lack maturity, react to peer influence, feel invincible, don’t fully understand the gaming industry and don’t understand the financial implications.
Studies also show teens who gamble are more likely to also have problems with alcohol, drugs and crime.
Gerardi said there are warning signs of problem gambling parents should be watching for — increased time online, increased anxiety and depression, problems with family and friends, borrowing or stealing money, academic problems and personality changes.
Parents should also beware of increased use of gambling terms such as point spreads, favorites, underdogs, etc.
“There’s a lot of help available,” Gerardi said. “If you get help your circumstances will get better.”
People with gambling concerns can contact Gerardi at The Prevention Team at 585-7424 or the New York State Gambling HopeLine at 1-877-846-7369. The St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center in Ticonderoga also offers help to gamblers. It can be reached at 585-7934.