Gambling Addiction: Getting out of its dark shadow

“One more spin… this time I’m gonna win 
One more spin… for sure I’m gonna win 
Just one more spin…woo… 
I need One more spin… this time I’m gonna win…”

One More Spin Lyrics
By: Men Without Shame

JODIE’S STORY

For some people, gambling means a couple of hours of fun. Others become obsessed until gambling takes over like a dark shadow.

“In 2005 I went to a conference that was held at a casino. While I was at the conference, in between meetings and responsibilities, I gambled at the slot machines. What happened then was, as any compulsive gambler in recovery will tell you, the worst thing that could have happened for me. I won!” 

So wrote Jodie Nealley, who described compulsive gambling as an “illness to which I lost nearly everything.” 

Ms. Nealley, an intelligent woman with a master’s degree in education, started gambling heavily in 2005. She lost her job two years later for embezzlement. 

“By 2009, at 55 years old, I was sleeping on top bunk in prison – sentenced to two years for larceny.”

Jodie worked hard towards recovery. She sought counseling, peer support and help from family and friends. She now works as Intervention and Recovery Support Coordinator at Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.

LEIGH’S STORY

Another former gambling addict named Leigh said, “My addiction cost me everything. I lost my job, all my material possessions including house, car, everything I owned. But that pales into insignificance to the lost relationships.” 

In the post entitled “My online gambling addiction ruined my life” on ABC News, Leigh described his life at the height of his addiction. “My marriage disintegrated, I lost access to my children, I don’t talk to my family and I’m no longer on speaking terms with most of my friends. I don’t blame them.” 

His insatiable addiction led him to steal over $130,000 from his employer  which put him in jail. Jail offered him much time to reflect until he thought “I knew if I didn’t stop gambling it would kill me.” 

He urges gambling addicts to “Seek support before you hit rock bottom.”

GAMBLING: LEGAL VERSUS ILLEGAL

Gambling is any game of chance for money.

It takes on various forms. These are casino-style card games like Blackjack / 21, other card games like Gun Rummy, dice games, betting on sports events, lottery tickets or “scratchers”, electronic games, raffle tickets, bingo, and mahjong. These are some common types of gambling identified by the California Council on Problem Gambling.

Is it legal? Some forms of gambling are legal, depending on the laws of a state or country.

According to an article on Legal Gambling vs. Illegal Gambling by HG.org, “There are social gambling events that are illegal and could lead to an arrest for all attending. These usually take the place of private animal fights, attempts at amateur social gatherings that appear like casino activities and similar situations. If the host charges for entry and then proceeds to present a gambling affair with larger parties, this could constitute an amateur event similar to a casino even if the only game is poker. Others can violate the law by hosting racetrack events with betting similar to the public counterparts. Often, the private and smaller gatherings involve the injury or death of the animal.”

SHOULD ALL GAMBLING BE ILLEGAL?

Some advocates insist that all gambling should be illegal. AddictionBlog.org by American Addiction Centers gives five reasons for this. 

First, there have been a lot of reports of fraud and corruption in state lotteries. 

Second, the risk of problem gambling increases when gambling facilities are available.

Third, the social costs of gambling addiction amount to billions of dollars yearly. This refers to its effects on careers, physical and mental health, bankruptcy, divorce, crimes and treatment. There is a domino effect on costs impacting the government for gamblers who will rely on welfare and unemployment benefits.

Fourth, gambling exploits the poor. A 2012 US Study shows that  “a full 61 percent of all lottery players are from the bottom fifth socio-economic bracket. The majority of lottery tickets are purchased in low income neighborhoods.”  Dr. Matthew Arbo, in his article on How the Lottery Exploits the Poor, points out that state-sponsored lottery is a sort of targeted exploitation of the poor that is directly condemned in Scripture. He emphasizes that there are better ways for the state to raise revenues, other than lottery.

Fifth, gambling sets a double standard for governments. Addiction.Org states:

“Legalized gambling is a bad social policy. At a time when independent organizations estimate that there are at least 12 million compulsive gamblers, it does not make a lot of sense to have the state promoting gambling. State sponsorship of gambling makes it harder for the compulsive gambler to reform.”

GAMBLING IS A BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY

According to Business Wire, “The global industry for casinos and gaming holds down a current net worth of over $500 billion.”

Data from Statistica Research Department. reveals that “the industry makes a total contribution of around 137.5 billion U.S. dollars to the U.S. economy annually and directly employs more than 730 thousand people. Worldwide, the gross gambling yield (GGY) of the gambling market was forecasted to grow annually to reach 495 billion U.S. dollars in 2019 .“

Casino.org, the world’s leading independent online gaming authority, describes Macau, the United States and the United Kingdom as “the greatest gambling nations in the world.’

WHEN DOES GAMBLING BECOME AN ILLNESS?

Gambling becomes an illness when a person develops an intense urge to gamble regardless of harmful consequences, even when he wants to stop.

Pathological gamblers are consumed by the urge to gamble and this tension can only be released by more gambling. Psychology Today states:

A compulsive, or pathological, gambler is someone who is unable to resist his or her impulses. This can lead to severe consequences. The urge to gamble becomes so great that tension can only be relieved by gambling more and more. 

– Psychology Today

This type of addiction has physical as well as psychological manifestations. These include depression, migraine, intestinal disorders, problems related to anxiety. It can  give rise to feelings of helpless, and sometimes lead to suicide attempts.

For Gamblers Anonymous, gambling addiction as a progressive illness. It states that “The compulsive gambler needs to be willing to accept the fact that he or she is in the grip of a progressive illness and has a desire to get well. Our experience has shown that the Gamblers Anonymous program will always work for any person who has a desire to stop gambling. However, it will never work for the person who will not face squarely the facts about this illness. “

Problem gambling has risen globally over the last few years. In the United States in 2012, around 5.77 million people had a gambling disorder that needed treatment. This was reported in the 2013 National Survey of Problem Gambling Services.

Because of its harmful consequences, gambling addiction has become a significant public health concern in many countries.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF GAMBLING ADDICTION?

Several signs and symptoms can help you identify gambling addicts:.

  • Lying to hide their gambling activities.
  • Trying and failing many times to quit.
  • Ruined relationships, jobs or careers.
  • Always thinking of how to gamble.
  • Depending on other people for money because of serious financial problems.
  • Getting depressed, restless, irritable when not gambling.
  • Stealing to gamble.
  • Denying that they have a gambling problem even when there is evidence.
  • Gambling to get high and become happy.
  • Suffering from mood swings when not gambling.

EFFECTS ON THE FAMILY

The stories of Jodie and Leigh in the beginning of this post show the severe effects of gambling addiction upon the family.

Children of gambling addicts get hurt in several ways. According to a post entitled “Negative Effects of Gambling Addiction” they suffer from:

  • Emotional neglect and abandonment (and even physical abandonment) when one parent is consumed in an addiction.
  • Stressed and irritable parents may lash out at children angrily, and even if they do not, these children can sense their parents’ tension.
  • Children of people with gambling addiction are at higher risk of experiencing their own addictions later in life.”

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP

Once a gambling addict recognizes his illness and would like to get over it, help is available.

Gamblers Anonymous, with groups in various countries, is “a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.” 

They don’t charge any fee, and the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop gambling. 

Their a website has a 20-question assessment for a person to find out if he is a gambling addict. They also have a 12-step recovery program.

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)  in Toronto, Ontario, Canada runs a website on Gambling, Gaming and Technology Use. It has self-help tools that can be used anonymously.  The tools include a Gambling Quiz to find out if gambling is having a negative impact on one’s life, resources to help cut down or stop gambling, and interactive self-help exercises for family and friends.

In the Philippines, there is Philippines-Gamblers Anonymous. They provide live and email support, and meet weekly at BGC Taguig, Metro Manila. 

ADVICE FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

The American Psychological Association (APA) has the following advice for those would care for persons with gambling addiction:

  • “seek support, for example, through self-help groups
  • recognize the person’s good qualities and avoid excluding them from family life
  • remain calm when discussing gambling with the individual and refrain from preaching, lecturing, or getting angry
  • be open about the problem, including with children
  • understand that treatment is necessary and can be time-consuming
  • set boundaries regarding family finances and avoid paying off the individual’s gambling debts.”

There is hope. Jodie and Leigh, and others who have recovered or are on their way to recovery, can inspire and encourage those who want to be set from the dark shadow of gambling addiction.

Photo by Thgusstavo Santana at www.pexels.com

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