What Makes Teen Gambling Addiction a Disorder

When you are participating in a particular behavior, whether it is gambling or the consumption of alcohol, regardless of the detrimental effects of that behavior, then an addiction has set in. You have lost your power to that behavior and you continue to gamble, drink, or use drugs despite the unfavorable consequences. This powerlessness can be indicative of a teen gambling addiction.

Teen Gambling Addiction 

Gambling is a popular social activity. For teens, it can be entertaining, fulfilling, and financially rewarding. Teen gambling that is merely a social activity and not an addiction tends to have the following characteristics: Teens gamble for fun and there is no worry about money. They will avoid high-risk games knowing the dangers and consequences of losing large sums of money. Although some adolescents might play regularly, they have the ability to limit their playing to once or twice per week and to keep their playing among friends.

However, the financial rewards of gambling can lead to a gradual loss of control over gambling behavior. When teens lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, a teen gambling addiction might be setting in.

The 1998 film Rounders with Matt Damon and Edward Norton highlight the dangers of gambling. The movie tells the story of two friends who need to quickly make a large sum of money in order to pay off a debt. The name of the movie takes after the term given to someone who travels from city to city looking for high-risk cash gambling games.

Although the movie did not become a blockbuster, it’s become an icon among those who are highly involved in playing poker games, which are growing in popularity.

The Consequences 

As this movie indicates, gambling can have a dangerous pull. According to YouthGambling.com, 4-7% of teens exhibit gambling addiction behavior, which include enjoying the rush of gambling; using the earnings of a win to stay in the game, versus walking away, and relies on loans from friends and families; doing anything to stay in the game and continue to gamble; focusing on winning big and will continue to play despite continued losses; and playing online, maxing out credit cards, if necessary, to continue to play.

As teens continue to gamble and the loss of control over playing sets in, there might be a decline in school performance, such as in lower grades or truancy. A teen might experience continued money problems, possibly affecting relationships with friends and family members. Those relationship might also be affected because an adolescent is spending so much time playing online or at casinos or among gambling peers, rather than with family. There might also be the beginning signs of criminal activity in order to pay off gambling debts. Which could lead to jail time and further criminal activity. An adolescent might also become associated with dangerous individuals who might become threatening if debts are not paid off.

The Red Flags

The following are red flags to look for if there is suspicion that an adolescent might be developing a teen gambling addiction:

  • Selling personal belongings
  • Borrows money and does not return the loan
  • Stealing and lying to friends and family
  • Possessing large amounts of money without good explanation
  • Possessing a great deal of debt
  • Receiving a number of phone calls from strangers
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Growing absences from school or work
  • Making frequent calls to 900 gambling numbers.
  • Spending large amounts of hours online


Gambling can be a fun social activity that adolescents participate in from time to time. However, when the above red flags are present, then the activity has gone from a social one to a pathological one and, like any addiction, necessitates treatment.