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Don't tempt young people into risky behavior

Many parents, grandparents, friends and family members feel that it is acceptable to buy lottery and scratch-off tickets for young people as a gift or a stocking stuffer. However, in New York State, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase and/or redeem any form of lottery ticket.

Here is one of the reasons: Early exposure to gambling increases the likelihood of developing a gambling addiction. Research shows that compared to adults, kids are two to three times more likely to develop a gambling addiction if they have been exposed to gambling at a young age.

According to the 2008 school survey by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, approximately 48 percent of students in grades seven through 12 reported gambling over the previous year. Youth in the Western New York area reported even a higher rate -- 59 percent -- than the state. Data also suggests that 20 percent of New York State youth already have, or are at risk for developing, a gambling problem. Teen problem gamblers have higher rates of school problems, crime, depression and double the rate of suicide attempts and addiction problems as non-gamblers.

In general, people are not as educated about gambling addictions as they are about addictions to alcohol and other drugs. However, problem gamblers experience some of the same consequences as individuals with alcohol and drug problems, including mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, poor physical health and interpersonal problems, including alienation of friends and family. Gambling is different from alcohol and other drug addictions because it is not self-limiting. There is no "overdose" or physical response to stop the behavior of problem gambling.

Please help prevent future problem gamblers this holiday season. When we buy lottery tickets or gambling-related gifts for youth, we are sending the message that gambling is intended for youth; when in fact, it may be putting our children at risk.

If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling or is concerned that a problem may exist, remember that help is available. In Western New York, treatment services are available at the Gambling Recovery Program through Jewish Family Services in Buffalo. It can be reached at (716) 883-1914. Gamblers Anonymous is also a support system that is available for anyone who is trying to stop gambling. The regional number is (888) 424-3577. Finally, New York State also has a gambling hotline. Please call 1-877-8-HOPENY.

Northpointe Council is a not-for-profit human service agency providing addiction services through prevention, intervention and treatment programming for individuals and families affected by alcohol, other drugs and problem gambling.

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Erica J. Boyce is a gambling prevention specialist at Northpointe Council in Niagara Falls.

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