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Risk and Reward

10th April 2018

Guest blogger Fay examines why adolescents may be at greater risk of developing gambling problems if not given the right support and information.

Teen brains are still being wired, and this phase of development is critical in forming the processes which govern reward, motivation and the way in which we manage risk. This may mean that adolescents can be at an increased risk of developing compulsive gambling behaviours if they are not provided with the right information and guidance at the right time.

The limbic system, located deep inside the brain, is responsible for how we manage motivation and reward – namely the chemicals our brain produces to help us experience temporary relief from discomfort and stress. Sometimes, our brain experiences this relief when having taken a risk without experiencing an immediately negative consequence, and this can feel fun. This feeling is heightened for adolescents, which goes some way to explaining why young people have a more liberal approach to risk-taking.

The pre-frontal cortex, responsible for complex cognitions, decision making and the development of our personality, is also still developing in adolescence. This may mean that young people repeat the same behaviour even despite negative consequence.

This has huge implications for education and intervention across all sectors, including those around gambling risk and compulsive behaviours. Without the right information delivered in context at the right time, and potentially with a lack of role models to demonstrate safer choices, young people may prioritise activities with short-term reward, such as gambling, drinking or drug-taking, over activities that reward in the longer term, such as studies, hobbies, building relationships and connecting to the outside world.

Many of the clients I have worked with at GamCare started to gamble when they were under 18, and according to the Gambling Commission’s research in 2017, one in nine young people take part in some form of gambling activities in the UK.

GamCare’s Youth Outreach Programme delivers free interactive workshops to young people, as well as free training to the professionals who support them. We aim to raise awareness of youth problem gambling and educate young people and professionals such as teachers and youth workers about the risks associated with gambling, and the support networks available if needed. This is all supported by our dedicated website for young people –

For more information on our work, download our full Strategy for Young People. If you’re interested in free workshops or training, register your interest here.