By the time he was 16, Josh found that gambling had become much more than a game. He had lost way more money than he could afford, and was often skipping school to gamble online. His friends stopped calling and his already tense relationships with his family got even worse.
Similarly, David, 17, used to go to the casino to make life seem more exciting. “I went when I didn’t feel like going to class, when I didn’t want to be at home,” he explains. “I went when I had a lot of work to do because for the time I was sitting at the table I forgot about my work.” He began stealing money from his dad’s company, and began smoking more and more pot to “help take the edge off of my problems”.
Like Josh, David. began to find himself drawn more to the card tables than his friends. “I don’t like going there with people anymore. I just want to be alone and be able to do my thing.”
You may have a gambling problem if you are:
spending more money than you can afford to lose
While most teens experiment with gambling at some point (i.e, lottery tickets, sports betting, poker games or internet gambling), between 4 and 10% will develop gambling problems. Some of these teens will become seriously addicted, losing too much money, pushing away their friends and family, and failing at school. This puts them at greater risk for serious drug and alcohol problems, as well as suicide.
“Most teens who gamble lose nothing more than money,” explains Dr. Rina Gupta, psychologist and co-director of the Youth Gambling Centre at McGill University. “However, some lose control of their lives before they ever even realize it. This tends to happen when they see gambling as a way of escaping bad feelings or responsibilities. It can easily spiral downhill from there, causing serious problems in most aspects of their lives.”
Teens worried about their own gambling, or concerned about a friend who gambles, now have a new place to seek advice and help. An anonymous and confidential online chat service every night from 8 p.m. to midnight (EST) offers teens a chance to speak with a counsellor who can answer questions, offer some direction, and direct them to the help they need to get their lives back.
www.stopthechase.ca is a project organized by the Ontario government’s , where teens can either call, email or live chat to specially trained counsellors about their concerns, and gain useful information. No names are necessary, so users can chat freely. There doesn’t have to be any commitment to return, and they are sure to fall upon a friendly ear to listen and offer some help.
“This is a way to support teens struggling with gambling issues,” says Dr. Gupta. “We know teens feel comfortable in front of their computers, and love to chat. The site allows for both one-on-one chats with a counsellor or group chats with other teens with similar questions and concerns.”
The service offers access to counselors with years of experience in the gambling field. They answer questions honestly, and without judgment, and can refer anyone who asks for more help to a referral service in their area.
This is precisely the kind of intervention that would have benefited Josh. By the time he was 18, he had hit rock bottom. “My future didn’t look very good,” he admits. “I was severely depressed, anxious and overweight, I wanted to disappear.”
When he made the decision to seek help, everything changed. “I feel like I am relearning how to live,” he explains, relieved that the lies and unhappiness are now part of his past. “In the past two years I have seen and experienced first-hand an incredible amount of heartache. I hope to never witness such avoidable pain again.”
Now Josh hopes his story can be a source of hope for other kids who find themselves in a similar situation with problem gambling. “I understand how bad life can seem. I’ve been there, believe me,” he says. “You are not alone. Get the help you need, be true to yourself and start your own journey.”
Fortunately, Josh reached out for help. It hasn’t been easy for him to get back on track, but he did it. If you can relate to any of the teens described here, or if you know someone who is gambling a little too much, check out www.stopthechase.ca. You have nothing to lose.
Fact: About 4% of teenagers have a gambling problem. That means that in a typical high school class of 25, one student likely has a serious gambling problem.