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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Gambling Wave Sets Stage for Addiction

Glamorization of gambling may create a new generation of addicts.
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Gambling Ed? continued...

Sure, "playing poker may start out as exciting and glamorous, but children need to be reminded of the positive pay off of hard work and the [resulting] feelings of accomplishment," she stresses.

Just as they monitor against sexual predators who may contact children through online chat rooms, parents should also monitor gambling web sites, she says. "Imagine if an adolescent looks at how much money they can win on online," she says. "It's very tempting and done in very eye-catching ways on the web. [This] can be very attractive to someone without that level of discernment."

But it's not just children who are vulnerable to this new wave of gambling.

"Whenever you expose one population to any behavior or substance that could be a problem, some of these people will become addicts," explains psychiatrist/psychoanalyst Lance Dodes, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

"For example, if you took an island off the coast of America and had a population that was never exposed to alcohol, there would be no alcoholics, but if you exposed them, 5% to 8% will become alcoholics," says Dodes, also the former director of the Boston Center for Problem Gambling and the author of The Heart of Addiction.

Did Lotteries Produce More Women Gamblers?

Gambling -- and compulsive gambling -- grew enormously in the late 1960s when state lotteries were first put into place, Dodes says.

"It used to be said that compulsive gambling was 90% male and now that's no longer true," he says. In the past, "gambling involved the horse track, the dog track, the race track or sporting events and women were not into it, but the lottery is equal opportunity," he tells WebMD.

"We now have all the soccer moms who think nothing of going into stores and buying a lottery ticket," he says. And "the more people who engage in gambling, the more addicts will emerge," he says.

Tip of the Gambling Iceberg?

People who become gambling addicts are also more likely to have other addictions, he says. About 40% of compulsive gamblers also abuse alcohol. "When people solve internal problems through addictive behavior, they can shift from one to another," he says. "That's why you often see people who start out as street drug users in their teens and then become alcoholics in adulthood."

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