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Teen Gambling Risks

A significant body of research shows that young brains are often the most impressionable and that presence of addictive substances can drastically alter and stunt normal brain tissue development. The influence of these substances can have both immediate social and behavioral consequences, as well as far reaching health impacts that can affect a person for decades to come. The risk of substance use for teens is well known, and talked about with parents, caregivers, and educators. So, why is it that gambling is often left out of this conversation?
It seems like more and more, tech companies and advertising firms want people on their phones as much as possible. While many adults feel they are “immune” to this kind of aggressive marketing technique, often the most vulnerable are kids and young adults.

Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of University of California, Los Angeles’ Gambling Studies Program, said in 2022, “Young people are significantly at higher risk of developing gambling disorder than adults, in part because their brains are not fully developed. Their ability to evaluate risk, their ability to handle loss, isn’t as secure as an adult.” The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors reports approximately 4-6% of high schoolers have a serious gambling problem. An additional 10-14% are considered at risk for developing disordered gambling.

Gambling in high school, while illegal, can take form in any number of ways. Games of chance and poker, dice, gifted scratch-off and other lottery tickets, and even borrowing access to online gaming apps are all common ways for a young person to gamble. For many it is the simple thrill of small wins and does not escalate much beyond that point. However, sometimes early “big” wins can propel a person to invest more time and energy to continue chasing their next windfall. Some signs and symptoms of teens experiencing gambling harm are:

  • Lost and stolen money and objects of value
    •  Often teens do not fully grasp the impact of their gambling costs. They are not able to see the signs that they have or are about to lose money. Teens may become more tightlipped about their finances. They be unable to explain why they have accumulated both debt or large sums of cash. This can look like repetitively borrowing money without repayment, depleted bank accounts, and/or stealing money from friends and family. Teens may also begin to sell personal belongings so they can continue to gamble. In some cases, teens will “barter” objects of value to offset their debts with peers.
  •  Constantly playing games
    • Teens are impressionable and can often get hooked early on by video games quickly. This includes traditional gambling platforms like casino games, video poker, and lottery tickets, but also general video games and fantasy sports. You might notice a sudden, increased interest or obsession with sports scores and heightened reactions to gaming outcomes as signs of disordered gambling.
  • Behavioral changes
    • Behavioral changes can include changes in appetite, loss of interest in activities, poor performance in school and/or at work, new or worsening school troubles, friend group fallouts, and at times unexplained injuries or physical altercations with peers. Teens may also have unexplained absences from school.

Some ways you can help a teen in your life with understanding the risks of gambling are:

  • Have a conversation with them about gambling risks.
    • With the increase of accessibility to gambling products and services, it is important to educate yourself and your teens about safer ways to gamble and the risks. It is more impactful to be proactive in these conversations than reactive.
  • Monitor their gaming and browsing history.
    • Often teenage mobile and online games are linked back to their caregiver’s credit cards and banking accounts. Make sure to check your statements often for increased transactions to online games your teen is playing. Loot-crates and in-app purchases to advance in a game can become addictive to teens. If you find your teen is frequenting online betting sites, have a conversation with them about why they are using these sites, what they are getting out of it, and how these actions are impacting them financially. This may be a sign they need to quit gambling or look into additional resources for assistance.
  • Examine your own betting practices.
    • It is important to lead by example for teenagers. Often they may model behaviors they see at home. Apply your education about gambling risks, evaluate your own gambling behaviors, and set a positive example for your teen so they can set reasonable gambling limits as well.

There is never any shame in seeking help when you or your loved ones are experiencing harm from gambling. It is important to seek professional help for gambling as it can have life-long, serious consequences emotionally, physically, and financially. National Problem Gambling Screening Day is 3/12. A free resource that is used by professional counselors is available at the following link: https://e.helplineil.org/screener/. This screening tool is quick and easy to follow.

If you or a loved one wants to talk about the results of the screen, or are experiencing gambling difficulties, mental health challenges, and/or substance use concerns, please contact Nicasa Behavioral Health Services at 847-546-6450 or info@nicasa.org. Whether someone is just starting to gamble, is beginning to experience challenges, or has serious concerns about their gambling or the gambling of a loved one, access to help is available 24/7/365 – it is free and confidential. Illinois helpline staff can be reached 3 ways: phone: 1-800-GAMLBER; text: GAMB to 833234; chat: www.areyoureallywinning.com

Nicasa also offers trainings and classes on gambling. These workshops are available to all who serve Illinois residents of any age. Follow the link to learn more information and register: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc02SXbTlL7SMZIlhKobGuqHsucIlh1VlO5YjliVG5x_k-KPA/viewform

February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month

All relationships exist on a spectrum. What might work for one person, might not work for someone else. That is what makes relationships so unique and special. However, it is important to recognize that all healthy relationships have the same building blocks: communication, respect, trust, honesty, and equality. When these blocks are missing, it may lead to some disharmony and to more extreme cases of abuse.

Relationships can be difficult to navigate for many adults, but teens often are the most vulnerable to abuse due to a lack of understanding, experience, and resources. The CDC reports (2023) that experiencing dating violence in high school can put an individual at higher risk of being revictimized during college. Other consequences include depression and anxiety symptoms, developing unhealthy coping strategies like nicotine, vaping, and/or alcohol use, displaying antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying, and physical intimidation or violence, and thoughts of suicide.

“I just feel so betrayed. He said he’d protect me, and now… I’m just scared of him all the time. I don’t know what he’s going to do next, or how he’ll react when I tell him. I’m going stay until he’s happier. Then I’ll break up with him.”

Teens often develop their ideas of dating at home first. They watch and observe the relationship models in their lives then go out to replicate them. The Office on Women’s Health states, “a boy who sees his mother being abused is ten times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home (2021).” Often violence and abusive behaviors are first learned at home and from other close, trusted authority figures. This can lead to a variety of maladaptive behaviors, but also lead to some individuals repeating these behaviors when exploring connections and relationships as a teenager and adult.

“She’s so controlling. Like, she’s constantly accusing me of cheating. I didn’t even do anything, but she always needs to know where I am and who I’m with. I’m so tired of it, but I love her so much.”

From the CDC (2020), 26% of women and 15% of men who experienced intimate partner violence as adults reported that their first experience was before the age of 18. While many teens often do not talk about it directly, from a caregiver and parent perspective there are some warning signs that can help you identify when a relationship is becoming unhealthy or abusive.

  • Using insults, intimidation, or humiliation
  • Extreme jealousy, insecurity, or controlling behavior
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Explosive temper or unusual moodiness
  • Constantly monitoring social media and needs access to location at all times
  • Invasions of privacy and/or showing up unannounced
  • Unwanted gifts, items, or flowers
  • Misusing over the counter substances or illegal substances
  • Threating or causing physical violence
  • Thoughts of suicide

Any one of these warning signs is enough cause for concern. Caregivers and parents can help safeguard a teen and help protect them from dating violence. These conversations can be difficult to have due to stigma, emotional involvement, and general misinformation about what healthy relationships look like. Here are some tips on starting this conversation if you feel a teen in your life is experiencing dating violence:

  • Talk Honestly and Openly
    • Let them know what healthy relationships can look like while expressing violence is NEVER okay in any capacity.
  • Educate Yourself on Teen Dating Violence
    • Look for local support groups, or resources for help. Learn more about the warning signs of domestic violence and related statistics
  • Pay Attention
    • Whether or not your teen verbally tells you what is happening, they may be communicating with you in other ways. Watch for changes in their moods and behaviors, changes in their grades, loss of interest in activities, changes in friend groups, or feeling like they are being watched. Sometimes there can be physical changes like altering appearances, unexplained bruises, or changes to eating habits as well.

Establishing healthy relationships from an early age is important to help teens identify when things are okay. Some additional resources to learn more about dating violence are:

If you or a loved one needs additional support with mental health or substance use due to intimate partner abuse or dating violence, please contact Nicasa Behavioral Health Services at 847-546-6450 or email info@nicasa.org

Nicasa’s Teen Court and GivingTuesday

Nicasa Behavioral Health Services is proud of the work our Teen Court program does for the youth of Lake County, IL. Since the program started in 1996, more than 5,820 youths have been helped with making positive lifestyle changes that they will use for the rest of their lives. The is almost the population of Highwood, IL!

That is an entire community of teens aged 13 to 17 years old who participated in a balanced and restorative justice program without going through costly administrative hearings and receiving a criminal charge that could follow them the rest of their lives. These teens did commit criminal acts, but through Teen Court they connected with an actual jury of their peers, learned to connect meaning with behaviors, received support for their mental health and underlying causes for their maladaptive coping strategies, and found a way to make positive, healthy lifestyle changes they could carry with them the rest of their lives. Teen Court does not use punitive methods of atonement for wrongdoing, but works with the youth in the community to help them achieve a brighter future of which they could not see a way of achieving on their own.

Teen Court also helps the teens learn an important skill that even some adults struggle with, making amends and apologizing for wrong actions. Teen participants connect meaning to their behaviors while learning how their actions harmed others. Many youth participants see how their actions have directly impacted another person and see the cost (monetary and/or emotional) to restore what was broken. The teen participants work alongside the victim to help with healing from their transgression, and the victim feels heard by the community.

Teen Court is 100% privately funded. It does not receive any state or federal grant funding, but rather it is directly funded by the community it supports, because it works. It has a historic success rate in Illinois, and a proven track record of rehabilitation for the youth who participate in the program. Not only that, but the volunteer peer jurors also learn invaluable skills on how to build community connections, empathy, gaining perspective on just how large and diverse their community is, leadership skills, as well as first-hand experience with the legal system.

During the giving season, Nicasa participates in GivingTuesday, a global leader in fundraising efforts for nonprofits and grassroots community organizations. This initiative allows us to amplify our community voice as well receive recognition for our program’s hard work. During GivingTuesday Teen Court receives a fundraising match from the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County of $10,000 for any new and/or increased donations from November 21st through December 19th.

If you are interested in donating, please follow the link here: https://nicasa.org/donate/  or text TEENCOURT to 707070 for other ways to give.



National Homeless Youth Awareness Month

In 2021, the Senate recognized November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. Many children across Illinois, and the United States, do not have stable, safe homes. Many are also unaccompanied—meaning they are not with a legal guardian or parent while they are unhoused. These children often are absent from school, missing important milestones, and are at a significantly increased risk of being the victim of drug-related and/or violent crimes due to their vulnerability.

Nationally, only 1 in 4 students who experience housing insecurity will graduate from high school.  Chicago Public Schools reported serving 16,451 unhoused students during the 2018-19 school year. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, an independent research partner at the University of Chicago that provides rigorously researched data to public and private sectors as well as policymakers to better support children, families, and communities, conducted several national surveys between 2017 to 2018 that revealed the complexity of this issue.

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago had 5 major findings from this work with unhoused youths:

  1. Youth homelessness is a board and hidden challenge.
  2. Youth homelessness involves diverse experiences and circumstances.
  3. Prevention and early intervention are essential.
  4. Youth homelessness affects rural youth at similar levels.
  5. Some youth are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness.

Chapin Hall’s findings also provided important case studies, including youths telling their stories of how they became unhoused. Sharing these stories is an important human element that is often lost in the granular nature of data collection and extraction. These first-hand experiences paint a picture of children and teens fighting for survival, family support, and a better future that is clouded by the overbearing presence of having unreliable shelters, food insecurity, threats of physical violence, mental and emotional abuse, and mental health stigmas. These children are put into a tough situation most adults are incapable of getting out of alone. Often these children report increased use of substances or develop problems regulating how much they are consuming to escape the daily struggles of their lives, and/or trading sexual favors for basic necessities.

Often when they are picked up and held by juvenile detention centers, they report a sense of relief for having a stable environment for a moment—much like adults who experience being unhoused.

Nicasa Behavioral Health Services recognizes that homelessness is comprised of diverse, complicated issues that disproportionately affect people of color, people living in or near poverty, LGBTQIAA+ communities, and many other historically underserved populations. These communities also are the most likely to experience negative health outcomes and often are forced into desperate situations to simply survive. Nicasa sees how this unfairly contributes to perceived delinquent behavior and recognizes that being unhoused, and other social and environmental factors may influence a youth’S decision to commit a non-violent crime in order to secure food, temporary shelter, or other basic necessities. We are committed to providing and finding resources for anyone unhoused or at risk of becoming unhoused in Lake County, IL. We work to break down the barriers of care and stigmas with receiving support.  We also strive to bring restorative justice to the youths in Lake County through Nicasa’s Teen Court that may be experiencing maladaptive survival instincts and external pressures that may result in further delinquent behaviors.

Nicasa’s Teen Court program is an important part of holistic care that views youth through a lens where criminal behavior is a symptom of a deeper problem. Teen Court accomplishes this by creating accountability for crime, connecting youth to individualized mental health and substance use care, providing training for better decision-making, developing new coping skills, and reducing re-arrest rates in Lake County. Nicasa also offers additional resources to youths who may be experiencing instabilities at home through our Family Advocacy Center. Nicasa Teen Court program directly addresses Chapin Hall’s third finding by providing prevention and early interventions to those in need of additional support. These services are critical early on because they can either entirely prevent the displacement or minimize the lasting effects of being unhoused.

For more information on Nicasa Behavioral Health Services, Family Advocacy Center and Services, Youth Services, and Teen Court programs please call 847-546-6450 or email info@nicasa.org.

Red Ribbon Week – 10/23 to 10/31

From October 23rd to October 31st is Red Ribbon Week. This week is dedicated to helping youths understand substance misuse as well as empower caregivers with knowledge and resources to have better conversations in the home about substance use.

The first Red Ribbon Week was created by The National Family Partnership, formerly the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, to advocate and educate parents about drugs. This was in response to the murder of US DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985 in Guadalajara, Mexico by Caro Quintero, co-founder of the now-disintegrated Guadalajara Cartel. Agent Camarena’s friends and neighbors started to wear badges of red satin to honor his memory after his untimely passing. Parents used Kiki as a role model for their coalitions to show a single person can make a difference. In 1988, the first Red Ribbon Week was held to commemorate Agent Camerena and educate about drugs. Today, the Red Ribbon serves as a catalyst to mobilize communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities (https://www.redribbon.org/).


This year’s theme is: Be Kind To Your Mind. Live Drug Free.

This theme was chosen because people every day make the choice to be their best selves by living drug free and establishing new healthy habits. For Nicasa Behavioral Health Services this is an important message for staff, community members, stakeholders, donors, current and former clients in recovery, and individuals across Lake County. Our Prevention Department works hard to educate children in 3 elementary schools (Wauconda, IL) 10 middle schools (Waukegan, Mundelein, Wauconda and Island Lake), and youth engaged in Community Youth Network’s (CYN) mentorship program with an evidence-based curriculum, Too Good For Drugs, on substance misuse. Too Good For Drugs works with children to develop skills for making healthy choices, building positive friendships, developing self-efficacy, communicating effectively, and resisting peer pressure and influence. It also works on developing character skills like: setting reachable goals, making responsible decisions, bonding with pro-social others, and identifying and managing emotions. The Prevention Department also organizes a “Stay Out of my Room” interactive display to educate parents and caregivers on where their children could be hiding substances and what do be on the lookout for. Nicasa also assists the Mundelein STAND-UP Task Force and Choose Your Path (Wauconda, IL) in providing consistent drug-free messaging.

During Red Ribbon Week our Prevention Department will be providing education and prevention services at the following places:

  • From October 23rd to October 31st, our Youth Advisory Board will have tables setup during lunch periods at Wauconda High School. At these tables they will have red strips of paper and will be asking fellow students to write down why they decide to remain drug free. The red slips of paper will then be made into paper chains and be displayed throughout the high school that week.
  • Tuesday October 24th, the Youth Advisory Board will be going to Wauconda Middle School to provide a Red Ribbon Week presentation to their entire 8th grade class. The presentation will focus on Red Ribbon Week, Prevention, and reasons the 8th graders should join the club when they come to the high school next year.
  • On October 25th, we invite everyone in the community wear red to support Red Ribbon Week. Please send us your stories and pictures to development@nicasa.org so we can share them on social media. You can also use hashtags: #BeKindToYouMindLiveDrugFree, #RedRibbonWeek, #Prevention, and #DrugFreeAmerica on social media.
  • Monday October 31st, Stand Up Mundelein will be at Mundelein High School for Boo-Bash. They will be handing out pledges and Red Ribbon material on staying Drug Free.

Here are some tips on talking with your teen about substance use:

If you are finding your child continually uses substances, even after talking with them and setting firm boundaries on the matter, if may be time for additional help. It is important to remember Red Ribbon Week is not only about awareness, but also advocacy and resources. Nicasa is committed to a drug-free youth. We are available to help assess the seriousness of the matter and help determine an appropriate level of care for children 12-years-old and older.

Call 847-546-6450 or email info@nicasa.org for more information about our youth services.

For more information on Red Ribbon Week, visit RedRibbon.Org

How to Talk to Your Young Child About the LGBTQIA+ Community

As a parent or caregiver, it can be difficult to know the right thing to say when kids question what we deem to be adult topics. Broaching topics of sexuality can be awkward for both parties, however, it is a necessary conversation to have.

When it comes to talking about homosexuality and transgender individuals, children should be given age-appropriate information so they can better understand and empathize with others. Regardless of whether or not your child is LGBTQIA+, having a conversation about LGBTQIA+ issues will help reduce prejudice while teaching compassion and empathy.

When to Talk

It’s never too late to start a conversation on issues of sexuality with your children. While there may be initial discomfort and reluctance from preadolescent children and older, ultimately having these discussions with your children will help them develop a sense of safety and security with you, while it teaches them tolerance and acceptance.

For young children, the age of 5 is a good time to begin discussing these topics by sharing some basic information with them.

What to Say

For young children, keep the conversation simple and focus on basic concepts. When talking about homosexuality, you can explain to your child that just as a man and a woman can fall in love, so can a man with a man, and a woman with a woman. When talking about transgender individuals, you can explain that how a person looks on the outside isn’t always how they feel on the inside. You can refer to the familiar adage about “not judging a book by its cover.”

Children should understand the basic concept that even though people may look different than us, they are people just like we are and equally deserving of love, acceptance, and respect.

You Don’t Have to Know Everything

Your child may have questions that you can’t answer. It’s okay to admit to your child when you don’t know the right answer. This could be a discussion point for later after you’ve done some research, or it could be a good opportunity for you to learn from your child.

Are you a parent in need of parenting advice and support? A trained, licensed mental health professional can help. Call my office today, and we can set up an appointment to talk.


Mental Health Habits for 2021

We live in a society that seems obsessed with physical health and weight loss. A majority of people have tried one or more diets to lose weight. People join gyms, juice, and take supplements, all in an effort to optimize their physical health.

Sadly, most people don’t give their mental health a second thought.

The problem is, no matter how good you look in a bathing suit or how “ripped” you may be, or how low your cholesterol is if you aren’t mentally healthy, your life is negatively impacted.

In the age of Coronavirus, when many of us are dealing with health and financial struggles, the stress can really take a toll on our mental health. With this in mind, here are some good mental health habits to practice in 2021 and beyond:

Practice Gratitude

Gratitude is like a magic bullet when it comes to mental health. Too often, when we are feeling negative emotions, we deny our full reality, that is to say, we deny all of the wonderful things that are present in our life. Be sure to take realistic stock in your life each day and feel grateful for the people, events, and things in your life that bring you joy and happiness. And be sure to share your gratitude with others!

Value Yourself

The only thing worse than dealing with grief, sadness, and stress, is doing so while devaluing your own self-worth. Be sure to treat yourself as kindly as you do your loved ones. See the good in you and practice self-care and self-compassion every day.

Lose Control

Most of us cling to the idea that we can control every single facet of our lives. It’s just not true. This desire for full control brings with it a sense of anxiety. Make this year the year you finally let go of needing to control everything.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

Toxic people are bad for our mental health. It’s time to cut ties with those who bring you down in order to make room for people who will support you.
Along with these habits, you may want to consider speaking regularly with a mental health counselor, who can help you navigate any issues you may be dealing with and provide coping techniques.

If you’d like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. Let’s discuss how I can help you make 2021 your best year yet!



3 Ways Teens Can Benefit from Therapy

Not many of us remember our teenage years as walks in the park. That’s because this time in our life is punctuated by uncertainties, social pressure, and a surge of hormones. Because of this perfect storm, many teens act out, which can cause a lot of chaos and disruption in the home and family.

Here are 3 reasons why teens can benefit from therapy:

Self-Worth Issues

Most teens have a certain level of self-worth issues growing through this awkward phase. But there are those teens that really suffer from low self-esteem. Therapy can help adolescence build their self-esteem.


Dealing with school, friendships, work, choosing a college… are all major stressors in a young person’s life. And many teens find it hard to speak with their parents. Therapy offers teens a way to communicate and let go of some steam and pressure that is building up.

Grief and Loss

There should be a rule that no young person should suffer the loss of a close friend or family member. Sadly, many teens do experience loss and the grief that accompanies it. This can be incredibly difficult for the teen and their parents to navigate. A therapist has been trained to know exactly how to guide a young person through the stages of grief.

Anxiety Disorders

It’s perfectly normal for teens to feel worried and anxious at times. But some teens experience such severe anxiety, it negatively impacts their life, schoolwork and relationships. Therapy can help teens learn to manage their symptoms.

Substance Abuse Issues

Unfortunately, many teens learn to cope with the intensity of life by using drugs and alcohol. A therapist can assess a teen’s substance use and determine the best course of action.

These are just some of the benefits teens can gain from working with a therapist. If you or a loved one would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me.