A new health advisory published this week by the American Psychiatric Association focuses on the dangers of Interactive gambling.
The study, titled "APA Advisory on Internet Gambling," is aimed at one thing: education.
"The advisory itself is a teacher," explained its main author Dr. Sheila Blume, chair of the APA Committee on Treatment Services for Addicted Patients. The Advisory is on Internet Gambling.
Blume said few people in the country realize the dangers of problem gamblers, and with the Internet opening even more doors for gamers, the issue needs to be pushed to the forefront.
Mitzi Schlichter couldn't agree more. Schlichter, one of the founders of the Custer Gambling Treatment Center in Indianapolis, feels the problem is much bigger than many realize.
"We have seen a tremendous rise as the Internet has grown," she said. "I would put it on the same level as drug addition, but behind alcohol abuse."
Although society as a whole may not see addictive gambling as that big of an issue as the experts, Blume said young adults especially need to be weary of Internet gambling.
"In virtually all studies of rates of gambling problems at various ages," the report reads, "high school and college-aged individuals show the highest problem rates."
The advisory points to the lack of barriers that traditional land-based casinos have as one cause for the increase in minors getting hooked on Internet gambling.
"Unlike gambling activities that are subject to state and federal regulation, there is no control on the hours of availability, age of participants or types of games offered."
Schlicter admits it is very easy for minors to gamble online compared to other traditional means.
"I don't think it is so much that they (operators) are targeting younger kids," she said, "kids can just get to it easier. There are safeguards with lotteries and casinos that we don't have with the Internet. It is a natural fit for kids."
Blume said it is equally tough for friends and family to help with someone who they suspect is a problem gambler, because often they don't know where to turn.
"If a kid at school has a friend with a drinking problem they probably know how to help them," she said. "They can go to AA or talk to someone. That isn't always the case with someone who is addicted to gambling."
Schlichter agrees, and hopes the advisory will help plant a seed.
"When you compare this to other addictive disorders, the government isn't spending a lot of money on it," she said. "What is being spent is usually spent on research. We need that research, but we also need to start educating society. There is a lack of education and awareness."
Education and awareness seem to be the only answer at this stage. The report does fall in line with recommendations made in 1997 by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which called for a federal ban on Internet gambling.
Schlicter admits that a federal ban is probably not a feasible option.
"I don't think you can really lobby for that to happen since there are too many other issues related to the Internet," she said.
Click here to view the study.