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Dec 21
Adolescent Problem Gambling: A Prevention Guide for Parents

​Contributed by Toula Kourgiantakis, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Simulation Program at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and a Registered Couple and Family Therapist


Adolescent Problem Gambling: A Prevention Guide for Parents thumbnail What was the rationale for creating Adolescent Problem Gambling: A Prevention Guide for Parents?

The handbook Adolescent Problem Gambling: A Prevention Guide for Parents was developed after discussions between the writers highlighted some of the gaps we were observing in our work with adolescents and emerging adults with gambling concerns. The first concern was that despite the fact that statistics showed problem gambling to be much higher among adolescents and young adults, we were seeing few young people with gambling problems in the clinic. That was surprising considering the results of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) completed by students in grades 7 to 12 across Ontario. This survey showed that 24% of grade 7 students are gambling and by grade 12, this jumps to 41%. Among students who are gambling, almost 5% state that they have a problem, of which 1% report that the problem is severe. This represents 7,500 adolescents in Ontario (Boak et al., 2015).

Our clinical work and research in this area also indicated that a large proportion of the youth with gambling problems are coping with other difficulties such as substance use, problem technology use, depression, anxiety, conflict with parents, as well as academic and social difficulties.

In consulting other experts and the research on this topic, we started formulating hypotheses about why adolescents were not seen in higher numbers in clinical settings. This may be due to not having services specifically adapted for this age group. It may be challenging for an adolescent to fit in to a group treatment program with most participants being in an older age bracket. It may also be connected to the fact that many addiction treatment centres do not offer family-centred services that support parents, enhance treatment entry for youth, prevent youth from dropping out of treatment and improve outcomes when youth complete treatment.

We also noted that while there has been a lot more research on adolescent problem gambling, very little has been done to promote problem gambling prevention. There are a few prevention programs delivered through schools, but they are not offered in a uniform manner across all schools. The work on substance use programming has demonstrated that prevention programs offered in schools have much greater impact in reducing risks or harm to children and adolescents when parents are involved. Yet, there have been no problem gambling prevention programs reported to date that involve parents (Kourgiantakis et al., 2016).

Another possibility discussed by our team on why adolescents and their families were not getting professional help was that perhaps the professionals were unfamiliar with problem gambling and were not asking the right questions. A gambling research team in Montreal surveyed teachers (Derevensky, et al., 2014) and mental health professionals (Dickson & Derevensky, 2006; Temcheff et al., 2014) working in schools and found that gambling was unknown and not viewed as an area of priority by professionals.

Considering all of these hypotheses, we wondered whether some of these youth are not getting any help and whether others are getting help, but not for problem gambling. Perhaps some of these youth who may be seen in children’s mental health centres are presenting with other concerns, and so problem gambling is not being screened, assessed and/or reported. This led us to develop this guide that we hope will be disseminated in children’s mental health centres, schools, hospitals, community centres, and adult addiction treatment centres. It is important to raise awareness in order to reduce risks. For an adolescent with higher risks, early intervention is key to reducing the likelihood that problem gambling will become more severe and/or will contribute to the onset of other problems.


Based on your clinical experience and research, what new forms of gambling are youth engaging in? Does this change how treatments and supports are offered/tailored for youth?

We know that most youth are engaging in some form of online gambling and that there is a connection with problem video gaming or problem technology use. While the services addressing problematic technology use among youth have increased in addiction and mental health treatment centres, there are still important gaps in policy and services. There is a need for well-defined best practices. Experts have recommended doing more around prevention and ensuring parents are involved.

We know that children who have a parent with a gambling problem are at much greater risk of developing a gambling problem. For clinicians who are working with parents with problem gambling, it is important to discuss ways they can reduce harm to their children. We previously developed Problem Gambling: A Guide for Parents to help parents learn ways they can prevent the intergenerational transmission of problem gambling.


Where can clinicians access the handbook?

The guide is free and available now on CAMH Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario’s professionals website here.

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