Within the last few years, there has been a substantial increase in the amount of gambling opportunities offered on the Internet. Many concerns have been raised about the activity, including the potential for excessive gambling, and the lack of safeguards for vulnerable populations such as adolescents and problem gamblers. The global nature of the Internet, combined with the limited ability of governments to effectively regulate or ban online gambling, may have profound psychological and social consequences.
People should know about the dangers of Internet gambling, which may put them at risk of developing gambling problems. This is especially the case for young people as they are constantly offered direct links to gambling sites when they play games online. Internet gambling poses a substantial risk to high school– and college-aged populations. About 10% to 15% of young people surveyed in the United States and Canada report having experienced one or more significant problems related to gambling. These problems include missing school and being unable to repay debts. About 1% to 6% may satisfy the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling, as found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). Even if individuals do not develop problems, they are still likely to lose money if they do not resist the temptation.
A recent study suggests that male adolescents with lower self-esteem and lower daily life satisfaction are more easily addicted to playing online games. It is of interest to note that the early onset of substance use is also associated with lower levels of life satisfaction. Online games provide players with activities in which they can feel more confident and to which they can escape from a reality they may find dissatisfying.
Internet gambling is related to a more general problem: the pathological use of the Internet. Several studies have implicated underlying psychopathology in overuse of the Internet, including depression, social anxiety, and substance dependence. A lack of social support from family or friends and/or social isolation may result in the pathological Internet use. The need for social contact and reinforcement obtained online results in an increased desire to remain in a virtual social life. The pathological use of the Internet involves spending abnormal amounts of time on the Internet, either wasting time with no directive purpose, or spending vast amounts of time in chat rooms. These individuals may check their e-mail several times a day and/or spend much of the day replying to bulletin boards and listservs.