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By Rachelle Alongi (Underwood), Communications & Outreach Coordinator

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I had a bit of nostalgia last week. I had the opportunity to speak to students on youth problem gambling awareness while connecting with some of the most talented high school faculty and youth I’ve known.

I spent four days with students from Karen Adams-Griggs’ class at Avanti High School (AHS), talking about addiction, making good decisions, and the importance of goal setting. This wasn’t my first time in front of AHS students, however. I was once a regular face in the hallways when I worked in the Communications Department for the Olympia School District.

Avanti, an alternative high school, offers Mini-Unit courses twice a year for students to earn graduation credit and learn about topics they may not hear during a typical class period: knitting, gardening, and yes, even youth problem gambling.

With help from my colleague Jim Leingang, who works as a substance abuse and problem gambling counselor for Providence St. Peter Chemical Dependency Center, students learned about the history of gambling, the signs and symptoms of problem gambling, addiction, and how to gamble responsibly.

“Having the opportunity to educate young people on the issues surrounding problem gambling and addiction is always rewarding. The students were eager to learn about this often misunderstood topic, and learned how easy it is to get caught up in a cycle of negative behaviors. This can cause a rippling effect in their lives and the lives of their families,” Jim commented.

The biggest takeaway for students was learning about the cycle of addiction, and how a problem gambler can justify irrational behavior in an attempt to keep gambling—regardless of negative consequences. Students realized the severity of problem gambling when they learned some gamblers wear adult diapers when gambling, as they cannot pull themselves from a game to use the restroom for fear of losing a “big win.”

Students also made the connection that a gambling addiction has similarities to a drug or alcohol addiction and that cross addiction (substituting one addiction for another) is highly prevalent in problem gamblers.

Making healthy choices during adolescence is important. And although most people who choose to gamble do so for fun and entertainment, AHS Mini-Unit students understand that poor decisions made around risky behaviors (like gambling, drinking, or doing drugs), may lead to a painful and even devastating addiction.

“This class has changed my perception on gambling and made me more aware of the problems that can occur with problem gambling. I came out of this class smarter and more self aware,” said Cassie Moore, an AHS student.

ECPG provides outreach presentations to various audiences, and youth and young adults are a particularly important group to reach. Youth are at a higher risk of developing a gambling problem than adults. Easy access to online gambling, gambling at an early age, having family members who actively gamble, or engaging in other risky behaviors (like drinking, drugs, and sex) can put an adolescent at a higher risk of developing a gambling problem.

If you would like to request a presentation similar to the Mini-Unit provided for AHS, please contact Rachelle Alongi, Communications & Outreach Coordinator by email or 360.352.6133.

Youth Problem Gambling & the Arts Grants are also available, which is an opportunity for a school or youth-based group to receive up to $5,000 to create a message or awareness campaign about youth problem gambling using the arts.

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If you or someone you know struggles with problem gambling, there’s hope. Help starts now by calling 800.547.6133.

A special thanks to AHS Teacher Karen Adams-Griggs, Principal Mike Velasquez, and the students who made ECPG’s Mini-Unit such a success!