It’s National Problem Gambling Awareness Month

It may be easier to hide signs of gambling than other addictive behaviors. There is no slurred speech, staggering, dilated pupils or other physical signs. But there are some negative indicators: a change in personality, lying, increased credit card debt, and money or valuables that “disappear.”

During the month of March communities nationwide are working to raise awareness of the consequences of problem gambling and the resources available for individuals whose gambling is causing problems in their lives. Treatment for individuals who are experiencing problems associated with gambling behaviors is not only available, but is also effective in improving the lives of problem gamblers and their families.

The efforts of this campaign are geared toward identifying problem gambling behaviors and accessing professional services to minimize the consequences of this disorder. The primary focus of this effort is to promote the fact that treatment is available and that treatment works. In order to make a positive impact in the community, we need to be sure that the individuals and families that are in need of these services are able to access them. Problem gamblers and/or their loved ones may receive assistance by calling the national helpline 1-800-426-2537. Treatment of gambling problems is a specialized field of expertise and there are professionals in our area who are specifically trained to assist problem gamblers.

“Problem gambling” is a term that indicates a person’s gambling causes disruptions in any major area of a person’s life. Problem gambling may be an isolated case of overspending or a pattern of excessive gambling when upset, or it may be an ongoing problem with continual losses and mounting debts. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 2-3 percent of the population in the United States or 6-9 million Americans suffer from problem gambling.

At the extreme end of this range is “pathological gambling.” The main features of pathological gambling include emotional dependence on gambling, loss of control and interference with normal activities. Pathological gamblers are unable to control their gambling, much as those addicted to alcohol are unable to control their drinking.

Who is at risk? Problem gambling can affect men or women of any age, race or religion, regardless of their social status. There are several risk factors that individually or in combination might make someone more vulnerable:

∫ A stressful life event such as death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, injury/disability.

∫ An early big win.

∫ Personal history of other addictions or mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

∫ Family history of gambling addiction.

∫ Feeling lonely or bored.

Sometimes the gambling problem goes away, sometimes it plateaus and maintains for years and sometimes it progresses to catastrophic levels. Regardless of the course, problem gamblers usually experience intense shame, financial problems, and family problems.

How do you know if gambling is a problem? If you or someone you know is….

∫ Preoccupied with gambling (i.e. reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)

∫ Uses gambling as a way to escape stress, depression, grief, loneliness, boredom and other negative feelings

∫ Increasing size/frequency of bets to achieve the desired excitement or high

∫ Trying unsuccessfully to control, cut back or stop gambling

∫ Restless or irritable when not gambling

“Chasing” losses with more gambling

∫ Lying to family and others about the extent of gambling

∫ Jeopardizing or losing relationships, jobs, education or career opportunities because of gambling

∫ Relying on others for money to relieve a financial crisis caused by gambling or to get money to gambles

If any of these statements sound like someone you know, that person may have a problem with gambling. Help is confidential and it works…don’t wait for the problem to get worse. Help is available to the gambler and/or the family member and the initial consultation is free of charge with a designated number of follow-up sessions available for a small copay. Problems don’t go away with time-they go away with treatment. Call 800-GAMBLER (800-426-2537), the winning number.

Sandra Street-Lovejoy is a licensed professional counselor and certified gambling counselor in private practice in Wheeling, with more than 30 years of experience in the mental health field.

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