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Gambling Wave Sets Stage for Addiction

Glamorization of gambling may create a new generation of addicts.

Red Flags for Addiction

Tell-tale signs among children include declining school grades, unaccounted for lost money, or by contrast, a lot of money and new possessions and/or mood swings before or after a game.

In adults, "if you set a limit and repeatedly break that limit, that is a definite indicator that you may have a problem in that area," Mandel tells WebMD. "If you find yourself thinking about the activity with high frequency, that may mean it's a problem."

Other red flags may include "changes in social or intimate relationships so that you become more withdrawn and less interested in people and other kinds of activities that usually brought you pleasure," she says.

Hewitt is on the lookout for such signs in Austin. "He's an excellent student and every season, he plays a sport," she says. "If I saw education or sports faltering or if I found that poker became his main interest, I would probably put a stop to it," she says.

"Obesity is rising and gambling is another sedentary activity that we are supporting rather than saying go out and play sports," White adds.

Gambling Ed?

"Maybe schools should teach about risks of gambling like they do alcohol and drugs," suggests White, who is also a professor of education at Temple University in Philadelphia. "One of the highest selling items for the holiday season was poker games and tables that parents are freely and easily buying for kids, so they are not getting the message that they are getting about drugs and alcohol."

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.

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