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Students at risk for developing gambling problems

Twenty-seven states have legalized sports betting online or will shortly. This affords many people who have not engaged in gambling on sports the opportunity to enjoy this form of entertainment.

Approximately 73% of Americans have gambled in the past 12 months. Between 20% and 30% of Americans gamble regularly. Gambling does not cause problems for most people. Some quit if they lose money, while others set limits on how much they will lose, then stop. However, it is likely that as many as 10 million Americans are addicted to gambling.

People at risk of developing a gambling problem include people who abuse alcohol and other drugs; have friends who gamble; and use certain medications, such as dopamine agonists. Approximately 75% of college students gambled legally or illegally last year; 67% of them bet on sports; and approximately 6% of them have a gambling disorder. Approximately 60-80% of high school students reported having gambled in the past year and 4-6% of them are addicted to gambling. Teenagers and college-aged young adults are more impulsive than adults. Therefore, they are at higher risk for developing gambling disorders. Teens and college students betting on sports are even more vulnerable regarding online sports gambling because of the ease of placing bets on online.

The rush of adrenaline associated with gambling stimulates the mind. The strength of this desire for more stimulation can lead some people to continue to gamble regardless of the negative consequences. This compulsive gambling disorder is characterized by increasing the amount of money bet to recoup losses; losing time at work resulting in termination; being preoccupied with gambling; destroying personal relationships; lower grades for students; and stealing in order to gamble.

Lane County Public Health Prevention Program in Eugene, Oregon, identified the following warning signs for college students: (a) being preoccupied with gambling; (b) being secretive and defensive about gambling; (c) trying and failing to control gambling; (d) increasing amounts bet; (e) being restless or irritable when not gambling; (f) chasing losses; (g) lying about how much they bet; (h) borrowing money; (i) missing classes and work; and (j) relying on others to bail them out.

Prevention is needed at all levels of education to inform people, especially adolescents and college students, of the pros and cons associated with gambling. Most colleges and universities have programs that address substance abuse issues. However, only 22% have gambling policies. Gambling can become addictive. This is due to the adrenaline rush mentioned above. Gamblers need an "adrenaline fix" to satisfy the craving to bet that can develop from withdrawing from betting. Schools that do include gambling in their programs need to double efforts now, due to legalized sports betting. Additional help for university administrations regarding college students gambling disorders is available from the International Center for Responsible Gambling.

Students in high schools and middle schools tempted to bet can lead some to use parents' credit cards to gamble online. Educators need to educate parents regarding this issue. Prevention activities at all levels of education needs to begin now or, if already in place, increase to meet the challenges of legalized sports betting.

C. Kevin Synnott is a lecturer at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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