You can bet that over spring break some students spent time gambling at casinos. While many people can gamble without problems, some will risk everything to win, and research shows many of those are likely to be students.
According to the National Problem Gambling Association, between six million and nine million Americans have a gambling problem in any given year. The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that problem gambling among students occurs at a rate two to three times higher than among the general population and that at least 78 percent of all Massachusetts youth have placed some sort of bet by the age of 18.
The National Council of Problem Gambling and the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators designated last week, March 6 to12, as National Problem Gambling Awareness week to help spread the word that gambling is a recognized addiction and that professional help is often needed to treat it.
“People are attracted to the rush, the high or euphoria or arousal, that comes with [gambling],” says Bonnie Jean Teitleman (SSW’83), director of the Faculty/Staff Assistance Office at Boston University, which treats people with addictions. “The gambling rush can be an antidote for things like depression, guilt, boredom, and anxiety. Gambling becomes an addictive behavior when people gamble persistently, in spite of the risks and losses in their personal and vocational lives.”
Compulsive gamblers also believe that ultimately they will win, she says, and that they have the self-control to stop gambling at any time, when in reality they do not. Students may be especially susceptible to gambling problems, according to Teitleman, because their concept of money is skewed and they aren’t bogged down with as many constraints on their cash as adults.
“Many young people I see now do not understand money,” she says. “They don’t understand debt, credit, or paying things off. With credit cards, their spending doesn’t seem real to them.”
The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling says signs of problem gambling in students include frequent talk about gambling, spending more money on gambling than they can afford, borrowing money to gamble, and challenging others to gamble.
Teitleman encourages students who think they may have a problem to seek help from Student Health Services or Gamblers Anonymous.