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Gambling information, advice and support for young people

Parents and Professionals: Psychology Insight

Guest blogger and psychologist Fay Kepidou asks:

Are adolescents an even higher at risk group for problem gambling due to their brain developmental phase?

We know already that the limbic system is responsible for reward and motivation; when gambling we experience a temporary relief from discomfort and stress. It is located deep inside the brain and it’s involved in emotion and reward processing, and stimulates a rewarding feeling out of doing fun things, including taking risks. We also know that our pre-frontal cortex is responsible for complex cognition, decision making and contributes to personality development and expression.

These regions within the limbic system have been found to be highly sensitive to the rewarding feeling of risk taking in adolescents when compared to adults. And at the same time the prefrontal cortex which stops us from making ‘stupid’ decisions again is very much still in development. This has huge implication for education and intervention across all sectors. It also gives us a better understanding of why teenagers are an at risk group. With misdirected motivation due to an undeveloped brain and lack of role models and information, a drug, gambling or alcohol may be given priority over meaningful activities, hobbies, connection to nature, family care, studies and other significant interactions.

Knowledge of the vulnerability of the adolescent brain offers important information about risk taking behaviors at that age. In my professional experience, two thirds of clients that I have worked with initiated gambling activities between the age of 12 and 16.  Thinking of the older generations, cross culturally it is only recently that we have started educating adolescents in schools. Think of your grandparents here in the West or think of current undeveloped countries where they stop going to school, after 10-12 years because they can’t afford it and because they need another pair of working hands to make ends meet. Our environment and teaching are the chief architects of brain development.