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Veterans Gambling and Its Impact on Youth 

We’d like to celebrate Veterans and Military Families Awareness Month for November. It’s important to bring awareness to our Veterans, especially how they can be amazing role models to our youth. It’s also important to educate families on how to address a Veteran’s potential gambling harm, and its impact on the family; especially on youth.

Veteran Gambling Connection

Veterans, who have served their country , often face unique challenges in civilian life. For some, gambling becomes a coping mechanism, source of recognition or an opportunity for social interaction. There is a strong intersection between Veteran gambling and its impact on youth within their families and communities. The first step to supporting our Veteran families and their youth is to understand the risk Veterans face for potential gambling harm and its effect on youth. 

  • Veterans as role models: Many youth look up to Veterans as heroes and role models. When Veterans engage in gambling, it can inadvertently send the message that gambling is an acceptable, and even heroic activity. Veterans who are struggling with the transition to civilian life may not be aware of how impactful, negative or positive, they are to youth.
  • Coping mechanism for veterans: Veterans, especially those struggling with post-traumatic stress (PTS) or other mental health challenges, may turn to gambling as a way to cope with their experiences. This behavior can be observed by youth in their lives as a healthy way to deal with stress, increasing the risk of youth struggling with gambling harm themselves.
  • Financial stress: Gambling can lead to significant financial strain, which can affect the entire family. Youth may witness the emotional toll that financial problems take on their Veteran family members. This can be confusing when taking into account the fact that Veterans are role models, and these role models are using gambling as a coping mechanism.

Impact on Youth

Youth are already at a higher risk of struggling with gambling harm. Taking into account the list of risks and warning signs for youth gambling, it’s important that we place special emphasis on acknowledging the effect that Veterans can have on youth. These effects can be extremely positive, or they can be very negative, especially with gambling.

  • Normalizing gambling: When youth observe Veterans engaging in gambling, it can normalize the behavior and make youth more susceptible to trying it themselves. It’s important to point out that the earlier youth begin gambling, the higher their risk is for gambling-related problems.  
  • Emotional and psychological consequences: Distress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil, resulting from gambling in the family, can affect the well-being and the mental health of youth. It can feel very confusing for youth to idolize their veteran family members while, at the same time, witness the ever-growing harm due to the Veteran’s gambling behaviors.
  • Financial struggles: Youth living in households with Veterans struggling with gambling harms, may face financial instability. Youth are always more aware than parents may want them to be. Therefore, youth are very aware that there are financial problems within a family. This can impact their education, access to basic needs, and success in school.

Finding Solutions

If gambling is having a negative effect on the family, especially on youth, there are actionable steps that we can easily infuse into our daily lives.

  • Open communication: Encourage Veterans and their families to have open and honest conversations about gambling, risks, and the potential consequences.  Youth are aware of what’s going on, whether they understand it or not. Let’s make sure that they understand what they are aware of, help them process the emotions they’re feeling, and understand how to avoid gambling harm, themselves. 
  • Positive role modeling: Veterans can actively model alternative, healthy coping mechanisms and activities for youth. These activities can include sports, a variety of hobbies, and community involvement. They can also role model appropriate, positive financial budgeting.
  • Educate and prevent: Schools, community organizations, and Veterans support groups should work together to educate youth about responsible gambling and addiction prevention.

Seek Professional Help

If a veteran is struggling with gambling, it is essential to seek professional assistance. This can provide support to the individual and guidance to the family.

In New York State, Veterans and families struggling with gambling harm can reach out to their local Problem Gambling Resource Center by visiting NYProblemGamblingHELP.org

Veterans are respected members of our communities, and their behavior and experiences significantly influence the youth around them. By addressing the issue of Veterans gambling, we can create a healthier environment for the next generation. 

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