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70% of under-18s seeking help from charity ‘have gambling issues’

·2-min read

Seven in 10 children who sought help from the UK’s gambling support service were considered to have directly experienced a gambling issue themselves, according to a charity.

GamCare has warned that many young people are unsure of the risks and unaware of when gambling strays into becoming harmful.

Over the last three years, the charity and its National Gambling Helpline have received contact from 353 under-18s, with 71.5% deemed to have a gambling problem.

The vast majority (77%) take place online.

It comes amid rising concern over gambling on esports, in-app purchases, loot boxes, and skins betting, where a person buys, sells and exchanges virtual items with other players.

“Since lockdown, we’ve not only heard stories from our helpline that reveal young people are increasingly experiencing more parental gambling but there is also rising concern for potential harms to young people who gamble themselves,” said Anna Hemmings, chief executive of GamCare.

“It’s been an extremely difficult year for young people, with many using the internet and social media not only to be in touch with friends, but also as a form of escapism.

“This makes it harder for parents to tell when their child might be displaying unhealthy behaviours, as often the symptoms, such as being withdrawn, can be confused with other issues and challenges teenagers face in this difficult period of their lives.”

To highlight the impact of gambling on a young person’s mind, GamCare has released a video featuring British boxer and YouTuber Viddal Riley.

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Using an MRI scanner, Riley and neuroscientist Dr Jack Lewis discuss how the reward pathway works in the brain.

“In the context of gambling, the trouble starts when a certain type of loss causes the reward pathway to become more active rather than less,” Dr Lewis explained.

“The culprits are ‘near misses’, situations where your bet doesn’t come in, but it feels like a close call.

“A last-minute equaliser in a football match or leading horse taking a fall in the final furlong often means a loss of money to the gambler but the excitement these ‘near misses’ generate in the outer reaches of the reward pathway nonetheless makes people come back again and again.

“Teenagers are much more vulnerable to developing addictive behaviours due to natural increases in dopamine sensitivity in the reward pathway at this stage of their development.

“This increases their appetite for taking risks and that’s why it’s illegal to gamble until you are 18.”

Other calls were made up of children rated as at risk (7.5%), while 20% were from those worried about a family member or friend’s gambling habit.

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