Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment

The Internet provides endless opportunities for gambling: casino websites, poker apps, lottery sites, mystery box websites, and even multiplayer games all frequently provide the ability to wager real money for cash or prizes. Teens can often access these sites with little more than a prepaid Visa gift card, making it difficult for parents to protect them.

Even console, PC, and mobile games, such as massive multiplayer “MMOs” and battle royale games, contain loot boxes and “gacha mechanics” that mimic real-world gambling environments. The player exchanges real money for a randomized chance to win in-game content, usually in the form of a desirable item, boosts, or in-game currency. Companies structure returns to provide more desirable results if teens spend a larger amount of cash.

But why – and how – does this lead to addiction? The urge to gamble is actually a natural consequence of being human. The human brain is programmed to constantly assess risk versus reward; when we judge the associated risk to be low, we chase the reward. If we “win,” our brains reward us with a rush of feel-good chemicals that produce an experience very similar to a high.

Most adults can counter this “rush” with logic, gaming responsibly and stopping once they’ve hit their limit. Teens, on the other hand, don’t yet have a fully-formed brain, and frequently lack impulse control. That makes them especially vulnerable to in-your-face marketing tactics that push them to try again and again, while also ensuring they will keep trying if they fail.

What Does Teen Gambling Addiction Look Like?

  • Teens may struggle to hide the amount of money they spend on games and/or gambling sites, especially when it comes to grey-area games. Finding continuous microtransactions or in-app currency purchases amounting to absurd amounts of money on a credit card or debit card statement is a major red flag.
  • Teens who are addicted to gambling often fall for big promises with very low returns, especially on mystery box websites. These sites promise the opportunity to buy expensive electronics and clothing for a fixed price, yet typically send junk.
  • As teens fall further and further into their addiction, and/or begin to run out of money and resources, they may attempt to steal or extort money from other sources. This includes stealing from parents, using credit cards without permission, and committing crimes in order to make money (e.g., breaking and entering into cars).
  • Teens who are suffering from gambling addiction often lie about their age in order to access resources typically limited to adults. Online casinos put very little effort into verifying age, meaning access is relatively easy – often just a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Teen gambling addiction isn’t easy to face; your teen may totally deny having a problem. Or, they may try to “explain away” their problem, suggesting that mystery boxes and loot boxes don’t count. They will often downplay the seriousness of their spending even if they have brought themselves to the point of financial ruin.

Signs of Gambling Addiction

Making up stories about self-injuries

Lying about spending or gambling

Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment

Financially abusing others to gain money

Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment

Becoming preoccupied with gaming or gambling

Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment

Losing interest in other hobbies and activities

New or questionable friendships

Damaging relationships, careers, or school to gamble

Unorganized or messy

Being unable to stop gambling despite efforts

What Causes Gambling Addiction?

Addictiveness – Gambling isn’t physically addictive, in the sense of a foreign chemical that causes dependence in the body. Instead, it is psychologically addictive on multiple levels. Teens become addicted to the rush of endorphins associated with gambling as well as the habits associated with the process. Dealers (the companies providing access) work hard to keep their products vaguely legal, maximizing their own profits by siphoning money away from addicted teens. Weak legislation surrounding grey-area gambling elements, like loot boxes and mystery boxes, all contribute to the problem, as does the anonymity of the online gambling space. It is extremely easy for teens to become severely addicted quickly.

Predisposition – Most research supports the role of genetic and environmental influences in a teen’s risk to develop a gambling problem. Circumstances may also make teens more susceptible; winning large prizes can seem very lucrative if you are experiencing poverty or financial strain. Similarly, having access to large amounts of cash may make teens downplay the seriousness of gambling behaviors as inconsequential. We also know that male teens are more likely to struggle with gambling addictions than females.

Exposure – Nearly all teens now spend at least some time online every single day. This increased exposure is almost unavoidable, and it raises the risk for teens to become addicted simply because it exists. As teens are more susceptible to turning to negative coping methods, when they do encounter gambling elements, they’re much more likely to self-medicate if and when they experience stress. Exposure thus combines with addictiveness to ramp up the seriousness of gambling addiction in today’s teens.

Age – Teens are still developing and learning how to cope with negative behaviors; they are far more likely to fail to think things through or look at the long-term picture. They often struggle to be realistic about risks, and may take dangerous leaps of faith simply because they lack impulse control. This is a contributing factor, but it should never be considered an excuse for bad behavior. Teens can – and often do – learn to determine right from wrong and how to behave appropriately even from a young age.

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Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment


all U.K. kids have gambling problems according to a 2018 study


of all teens surveyed regularly play games with gambling elements


of all teens 12 to 17 gamble at least once per year

How Can I Help My Teen with Gambling Addiction?

Help them identify better coping mechanisms – Teens who turn to gambling often become bored and unable to find interest in other activities. Instead, they constantly think about the rush associated with gambling after a payoff. Helping your teen find new ways to take safe, healthy risks while having fun can sometimes break them free from their negative feedback loop, but it will take time. Teaching your teen to manage stress is also helpful.

Help them work on their moderation and scheduling – It isn’t realistic to expect a teen to stay totally away from the online world anymore, and frankly, any behavior can be addictive – even eating! Using harm reduction strategies to help teens moderate and schedule when they spend time playing games and handling real-life responsibilities may help some teens regain and maintain control over their lives. However, it is important to note that teens who are at crisis levels of addiction may still need to be separated from their behaviors and treated to avoid more severe, ongoing issues.

Continue working with a therapist after recovery – Addiction treatment is multifaceted, requiring much more than just breaking the cycle associated with gaming. For this reason, residential treatment is really just the beginning. Teens may be diagnosed with mental health disorders along the way; these must be treated in order to keep teens “sober.” Early intervention during the teen years is critical to prevent gambling addiction from turning into more severe addictions or behaviors, such as drug addiction or sex addiction. Additionally, relapses are common and expected. Your teen should continue to work with a therapist long-term, focusing on achieving happiness and maintaining motivation as they move into adulthood with a focus on health and wellness.

What Types of Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment Are Available?

Gambling is psychologically addictive, not physically addictive. Stopping isn’t likely to produce physical withdrawal symptoms, but teens certainly can experience mental health crises, increased stress, generalized depression, and other negative emotions. Treatment can help teens discover what led them to their gambling habit in the first place so they can remove the shackles that bind them to it long-term.

Talk Therapy

In order for treatment to be successful, teens must be able to admit they have a gambling problem. It is expected for this to be difficult, at least at first, especially if teens are hiding their behaviors. Many teens downplay gambling as “just having fun,” even when it becomes obvious the activity is maladaptive. They may fail to recognize how they are harming other people in the process. Therapy can help.
A qualified therapist can help teens navigate their history, experiences, and behavior to backtrack and find what triggered it in the first place. From there, they can teach your teen coping skills and show them how gambling venues manipulate users into playing despite providing a low return (or even nothing at all). Teens are far more likely to engage in treatment when they can see the reality of gambling, why it is addictive, and how they were manipulated into being addicted in the first place, especially if they develop alternative coping measures to replace the behavior.


There is no medication to treat gambling addiction, but teens who begin gambling to self-medicate other addictions and/or mental health disorders may benefit from certain medications. This is often the case for teens with depression, anxiety, manic-depressive disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed short or long-term to control symptoms.

Recovery Resources

Treatment starts with inpatient therapy, but this is really just the beginning. Once teens become program alumnis, they must work on developing an outside support network by finding community recovery resources. Options like group therapy, online therapy, or even online support forums can be very helpful, engaging teens where they are already spending time and keeping them immersed in sobriety culture. This helps to prevent relapses as teens gradually move back toward everyday life.

Helping with Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

At Paradigm, we know problem gambling is often the final step after teens begin to lose control in other areas of their lives. Problems at school, issues with bullying, poor self-esteem, and even past trauma can drive teens to “use” certain behaviors to avoid facing their problems once and for all. Our programs take this into consideration and treat each patient uniquely at their own pace.

More Than A Bad Habit

When a teen first comes to us for treatment, we focus on helping them realize why their gambling is a problem and how destructive it is to their well-being. Once they realize how deep they’re in, we work tirelessly to help them break free of the shackles of addiction, showing them how to dissociate from the behavior over time. While we are firm and always hold teens accountable, we do so without shame or blame. Our goal is always to encourage teens to work with us willingly.

As teens begin to recover, treatment changes to help them develop healthy daily routines and habits. We provide guidance and therapeutic intervention, encouraging your teen to break bad habits and invest in their own wellness and recovery. This does of course include one-on-one and private therapy to address any underlying issues.

The Importance of Community

Community is so important during initial recovery and afterward. At Paradigm San Francisco, our staff constantly work to build bridges with teens, bonding with them and encouraging them to bond with the other teens in our facilities. By re-learning how to socialize without addictive behaviors and substances, teens also rediscover how to self-resolve personal problems and cope with negative emotions. Patients are viewed as individuals, not just another example of a disease with a specific label. Interaction between individuals is encouraged, but framed in a safe, protective environment with 24-7 support.

The reward is unbelievable for your child! A real honest sense of a calmer understanding of themselves. A maturity happens....and even smiles, hugs and laughter come with renewed confidence for them. I am so grateful for their expertise and passion for what they do for their clients... The child that I once knew has returned, better, stronger, and willing to be happy!! Thank you so much Paradigm Malibu!!

– Ellen

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Gambling Addiction Disorder Treatment

Can I be cured from gambling disorder?

There is no cure for addiction, but you can achieve long-term “wellness” after experiencing a gambling addiction. It is important to understand that underlying contributing factors play a very big role in your addiction; if you don’t treat these issues, it will be much more difficult to avoid gambling in the future. Some – like depression, OCD, and ADHD – may not be technically curable, but they can be treated to help you adapt.

What’s the difference between an addiction and gambling addictions?

Surprisingly, gambling addiction has a lot more in common with drug addiction than you might think. Gambling causes the human brain to release a cascade of the same reward-associated chemicals released after using most addictive drugs, but there is no foreign chemical entering the body and causing dependence. While the lack of physical dependence does make treating gambling addiction easier than treating heroin or cocaine addiction, there is a much higher risk that compulsive disorders are contributing to the addiction. Such disorders and behaviors are every bit as serious and challenging to treat, and your teen may require several “trial and error” attempts to find the right approach.

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