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Every Story Matters: Bringing Youth into the Fold During Problem Gambling Awareness Month

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“I blew $500 dollars on one stupid game.” “I’m gambling on my phone before class and during the school day, even during the 2-minute walk to my next class.” “I’ve borrowed money from friends, family, everyone. There’s no one left who trusts me.” “I thought I hit rock bottom before—but this is definitely rock bottom now.”

Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2024 logoMarch is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is Every Story Matters—a reminder, says the National Council on Problem Gambling, that “every narrative, battle and triumph related to problem gambling is significant.” Bringing these accounts to light is no small undertaking, for even as online gambling continues to see explosive growth, we’re less likely to hear the stories or see representation of those who struggle with it. Because problem gamblers exhibit no outward symptoms and are often plagued by a deep sense of shame, this is often called “the silent addiction”—and for underage gamblers, who may fear legal repercussions, this silence is even more pronounced.

But here in Eastern Connecticut, we know we cannot afford to remain silent. Home to two of the world’s largest casinos, our region also faces cultural and community factors which make residents uniquely vulnerable to gambling disorders. Problem gambling rates are highest during the adolescent and teen years, so the time to protect our youth is now. By preventing young people from gambling until age 21 or later, we can protect a generation from this destructive and potentially lifelong addiction.

This month, we encourage you to break the silence surrounding underage gambling. For those who are struggling, having these conversations and hearing these stories is the first step toward overcoming the shame and stigma that often stands in the way of getting help.

What Makes Underage Gambling So Risky?

I was so focused on trying to get my losses back, I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself.

Gambling isn’t just hard on the wallet—it can have serious impacts on our mental health. Problem gambling is strongly associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

For young people, this is a two-pronged problem. Teens who already struggle with high stress levels or mental health issues may use gambling as a coping method, putting them at higher risk of developing an addiction. On the other hand, the stress that gambling typically causes in all areas of life—from financial losses to damaged relationships—can lead to the development of, or worsening of, mental health conditions.

Without help, a young person’s gambling can quickly spiral into a larger problem. Youth who gamble are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol compared to those who don’t gamble. Unfortunately, out of all addictions, gambling also has the highest rate of suicide and suicide attempts—a devastating consequence for the entire community.

How Teens Get Started Gambling

Today, it’s easier than ever to start gambling—and it often starts with the smartphone in every teenager’s hand. Since legalizing sports betting in 2021, Connecticut has seen a swift and intense spike in online betting, a trend that mirrors gambling’s sweep across the nation. In fact, Americans gambled a record-breaking $66.5 billion in 2023, giving the gaming industry its best year ever. Much of the growth was driven by online gambling (which spiked almost 23% over the previous year) and sports betting (which spiked more than 44%, as it continues to become legalized in more states following a 2018 federal legislation change).

Although gambling apps and websites use a variety of age verification tools, young people simply find ways around these, whether by inputting a false date of birth or using a parent’s ID. Once they have access, betting can be done anytime, anywhere. Even when at home, spending time with the family, a child can be placing bets—with no outward signs of their problem. A gambling addiction is typically revealed only after it has caused great distress or financial losses.

I’ve been staying away, but I still get at least one text or email a day offering free spins.

Getting started may be easy, but staying away from gambling is a different story. Young people find themselves bombarded with ads for sports betting and gambling apps. From highway billboards to TV commercials to ads in streaming videos and social media sites, young people are easily lured by the promises of exciting games, big prizes, and signup bonuses.

Even if they somehow manage to avoid or ignore these advertisements, gambling is quickly becoming an embedded part of the culture, and young people may find themselves betting on sports games to fit in with friends.

What We Can Do

I wish I had the money back, the time back…but I also wish I had my old ‘normal’ brain back, my way of thinking before addiction.

Kids often don’t realize how risky their first bet truly is. Help them understand the dangers of gambling by treating it just as seriously as substance use. Start the conversation about gambling as early as possible, and reinforce the message often. Give them the chance to ask questions and to share what they’ve seen and heard from friends and classmates.

Parents should also keep an eye out for the warning signs of a gambling problem in their children—which might include irritability or unexplained anger, spending long hours on their cellphones, a sudden loss of interest in activities, a negative change in academic performance, and missing cash or valuables around the house.

If you suspect your child may be gambling, don’t wait to deal with it. This addiction can take hold quickly, and your child will need your support to overcome it.

Help is Available

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline, which offers hope and help without stigma or shame. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Call 1-800-GAMBLER, text 800GAM, or visit

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