Health Advisory on Internet Gambling

The American Psychiatric Association issued a health advisory (January 16, 2001) about Internet gambling. The advisory, from the committee on Treatment Services for Addicted Patients, notes that there has been tremendous growth of gambling opportunities in the last several years. This includes Internet gambling aimed at children and teenagers. Children can link to gambling sites from other game sites, and are lured by free gifts and discounts.

Internet gambling can be more dangerous than other forms of gambling since there are few - if any - regulations as to fairness, and most of the operators are outside the US. These operations are not regulated by state or federal statutes, so there is no control over the types of games available or the ages of the participants. Hackers can manipulate the games, and can gain access to credit card numbers and funds.

As of 2000, there were more than 1,300 online gambling sites with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Research has shown a correlation between the availability of legal gambling in a state, and the proportion of the state's population who report gambling addiction or lesser problems. In all states, the rates of gambling problems are highest in high school and college-aged young adults. According to the advisory, about 10% to 15% of young people surveyed in the US and Canada report having experienced one or more problems related to gambling. This includes an estimated 1% to 6% who may satisfy the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling.

Pathological gambling is an addiction-like disorder in which gambling-related behavior leads to damaging personal, family or social consequences. Individuals who have experienced 5 or more of these symptoms are diagnosed with this disorder.

  • precocupation with gambling-related thoughts, plans, or activities;
  • needing to gamble with increased sums of money to produce the desired excitement;
  • reseltessness of irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling;
  • gambling to escape from problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, anxiety, guilt or depression;
  • after losing money gambling, trying to win it back with more gambling;
  • lying to conceal gambling activities or their consequences;
  • committing illegal acts to finance gambling;
  • jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of gambling;
  • relying on bailout money from others to fix a desperate gambling-related financial situation;
  • having made repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling.
Problem gambling is the term applied to individuals with some but fewer than five of these symptoms. These individuals are at high risk for developing pathological gambling.

The isolation and timelessness of the Internet means that people can gamble undetected and uninterrupted for long periods. Young people may know nothing about the addictive nature of gambling, and may see it as a harmless pastime - just another cool game on the Net, but one where you might lose a few dollars. If a young person seems to be losing touch with other activities and is becoming increasingly involved with Internet or another form of gambling, they can get help at student health care facilities on their college campus, from mental health professionals, and organized gambling treatment programs.

The APA Advisory notes that the National Gambling Impact Study Commission has called for a ban on Internet gambling, but meanwhile the opportunities for gambling continue to grow at an explosive rate.

Information provided by
The American Psychiatric Association


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