Teenagers can also struggle with gambling addictionsfitzsean

“Gambling gave me permission to love and hate myself. Close your eyes for a minute and think of the best thing that ever happened to you, imagine the noise, the smell, what it felt like. Now think of the worst thing that ever happened to you – feel the despair. Gambling gave me all those feelings in half an hour at the bookies. It was fantastic and awful in equal measures.” (Sid, in The Guardian)

How would you react to a friend or family member’s confession of a gambling addiction?

You could laugh and smile, as if the admission is a joke. While unlikely to provide any solace, it seems unrealistic that a young person in this obscenely expensive modern world – and particularly those struggling with the costs of Higher Education – would have the funds to be able to maintain an addiction inherently concerned with money.

Or you could ask the question that’s as inevitable as it is insensitive and invasive.

“How much money did you lose, then?”

But take a moment to grab a jarring sense of perspective by putting that question into the context of any other addiction. No one asks a sex addict how many people they’ve fucked, nor an alcoholic how many pints they can down in a minute.

The answer is clear: be comforting and supportive, potentially suggesting pragmatic solutions as you would when a friend confides in you the existence of any other issue. But you’d be surprised just how many people fail to choose the obvious approach.

Yet this is inevitable; the idea of problem gambling, in particular young gambling addicts, is an alien concept.

In one respect, this is attributable to gambling addictions not being sexy enough to be subject to the Hollywood treatment. Many a film or TV show has a protagonist struggling through an AA meeting, or fighting to save a ruined marriage consequent on the indulging of their sex addiction. This is not to detract from these addictions; rather, it is to suggest that we are less immune to, and less prepared for, a revelation from a young person about their gambling addiction.

Furthermore, from an objective perspective, an addiction to a substance is generally easier to comprehend. On a fundamental level, the idea that the body is craving and demanding something – a concrete object – which it feels it cannot live without can be compared by analogy to feeling hungry or thirsty. But in relation to gambling addictions, the subject of the addiction is typically something far more abstract; a feeling, an emotion, a sensation. For all intents and purposes, something indescribable.

It is clear that there is nothing wrong with responsible gambling. It can unite friends and fans in equal measure. For many, it can brighten up even the most boring Stoke v West Brom match, and occasionally provide a welcome, unexpected windfall to line pockets. Stories of remarkable gambling successes – whether that be in relation to the Grand National, or more recently Leicester City’s 5000-1 Premier League title – often percolate into the media, while the Internet is strewn with websites devoted to ‘tipsters’ assuring visitors that they know exactly how to beat the bookies.

But from that comes a negative corollary – irresponsible gambling. And it’s a problem made all the more acute thanks to the breeding ground that has been created by the government and society alike.

While the gambling industry is continuing to grow in size and revenue, generating £5.4 billion between April 2014 and March 2015, notably absent has been any significant discussion – never mind progress – in regards to the effectiveness of the industry’s regulation. At least two adverts advertising sports betting companies are shown during breaks in live broadcasts, often displaying live odds. These are adverts glorifying betting, playing on the modern concept of lad culture – for a Ladbrokes Lad, banter and betting is life. Notably overlooked is the potential for getting caught up in the excitement of the sporting event, or succumbing to peer pressure: both can lead to betting amounts of money that cross the boundaries of sustainability.

Gambling is increasingly a dangerous industry. For example, the concept of in-play betting has opened up a vast array of markets, taking the traditionally discontinuous form of gambling and making it something more frenetic and repeatable. The globalisation and diversification of the industry means that betting on sports can take place at any time of day; addicts to sports betting can bet on the amount of corners in a Vietnamese Under 21’s football match, and from any device with an Internet connection. All this whilst introductory offers from bookmakers advertise free bets of between £20 and £200 in return for an initial, opening bet of the same amount… on outcomes with even odds.

That’s £200 on an event with a 50 per cent chance of happening. A 32 inch TV, on a coin toss.

Ultimately, there is a deep-rooted governmental and societal failure to appreciate the potential harm to young people that could be caused by problem gambling. More information must be circulated about gambling; young people, excited by their capacity to gamble, can easily start without realising the gravity of what they are doing. It is increasingly documented that many teens see gambling as something to aspire to, rather than as a risk. While seven per cent of men across the whole UK adult population are estimated to be “at risk” of becoming gambling addicts, that proportion more than doubles to 16 per cent among men aged 16 to 24.

More information too must be provided to the public as a whole, educating people of all ages as to the severity and extent of the harm that this often-overlooked addiction can cause to an equally-overlooked proportion of the population. Public attitudes towards the very existence of young gambling addicts can be both scathing and insensitive in equal measure, leading to further alienation of vulnerable individuals and an inescapable feeling of shame.

The effects of a gambling addiction on a life can be catastrophic. Trust in relationships can be destroyed; the capacity to acquire certain jobs or bank loans wiped out; and self-doubt can persist, refusing to free its shackles on the mind. So to find out that a website called GamCare – launched two years ago to provide support from problem gamblers – receives 10 calls a month, from gambling addicts that are between 12 and 18 years old, is harrowing.

We need the government to do more to help protect young people from the risks of irresponsible gambling. We need to be able to react sensitively to often-painful confessions of gambling addicts. We need to understand exactly what is meant by, and who are, young problem gamblers.

We need to know how to help them.

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