Approximately 75 percent of college students gambled during the past year, betting on the lottery, casino games, cards and sports.

Many college students assume gambling is a risk-free activity; however, research has shown that for some college students, gambling for fun can turn into a problem. While the vast majority of college students who are of legal age to gamble do so responsibly, the most recent research estimates that 6 percent of college students in the U.S. have a serious gambling problem that can result in psychological difficulties, unmanageable debt and failing grades.

Today’s college students are exposed to gambling both on campus and in the surrounding community as well as through online sports wagering.

What is gambling?

Gambling is characterized by the following three criteria: (1) Players wager money or an object of value; (2) this bet is irreversible once placed, and, finally; (3) the game’s outcome relies on chance. There are many types of gambling, including:

  • Lottery/numbers
  • Casino gambling, including table games and slot machines
  • Professional sports gambling
  • College sports gambling
  • Horse/dog races
  • Internet gambling
  • Bingo and raffles

Gambling Disorder and Health Implications

Most college students are able to make responsible decisions about gambling, but for some, gambling can turn into a serious problem. Having problems as a result of your son’s or daughter’s gambling doesn’t mean he or she necessarily has a gambling disorder but could signal future problems.

Gambling disorder can be associated with numerous negative consequences and are highly correlated with other risky behaviors. Students who use tobacco, drink heavily or binge drink, smoke marijuana or use other illegal drugs, drive under the influence or have a low GPA are more likely to gamble.

Co-occurring Disorders

Comorbidity is the term used to describe the existence of concurrent disorders in an individual. It also refers to the ways in which these disorders interact or interfere with each other. For example, there are different medical implications and treatment possibilities for a person with high blood pressure and diabetes than for a person with only one of those conditions.

As with all addictive behaviors, people who struggle with gambling problems tend to have other psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, and other addictive disorders such as substance-use disorders. The existence of “comorbid” disorders with disordered gambling makes it difficult to determine whether the act of gambling causes a gambling disorder or other disorders cause excessive gambling. Or, do the concurrent disorders suggest an underlying addiction syndrome? Understanding these relationships can provide a better understanding of the factors that cause gambling problems, as well as strategies for resolving the disorder. Although the field of research on comorbidity is relatively young, recent research continues to confirm the relationship between pathological gambling and substance-use disorders, citing high rates of their co-occurrence in many different types of studies.

Warning Signs of a Gambling Problem

There are some signs that could indicate your college student may have a gambling problem. Keep in mind that all of these behaviors could also indicate other difficulties such as alcohol problems and drug use.

  • Frequent unexplained absences from classes
  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Progressive preoccupation with gambling
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Visible changes in behavior (e.g., mood changes, behavior problems, etc.)
  • Decline in health, increased symptoms of depression
  • Lies about engaging in gambling behavior
  • Feels compelled to chase losses
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or stop
  • Gambles to escape worry or problems
  • Exaggerated display of money and/or material possessions
  • Unexplained debt
  • Borrows money to gamble
  • Feast or famine cash flow
  • Feels need to increase betting amounts

There are many resources that can provide assistance for people with gambling disorders, including the student health center, helplines, websites, and off-campus treatment providers.  Click here to be redirected to information about these resources.

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