March Is Problem Gambling Awareness Month
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month and treatment resources and casinos sponsor programs to inform the public about responsible gambling, problem gambling and the resources available to the gambler and their concerned family and friends.
Most gamblers are social gamblers-they gambling as entertainment and do not experience negative effects from their gambling. But then there is the one gambler in ten who starts out as a social gambler but over time experiences more and more problems related to gambling.
For most social gamblers, the fact that they win or lose is immaterial. They have decided to spend a certain amount of money and have some fun. They realize that the odds are against them and winning would be nice, but it is not expected. But “social” gamblers may still get into trouble because the activity of gambling stimulates certain chemicals in the brain which create feelings of pleasure or well-being and lack of inhibition. Consider this scenerio: The “Social” gambler who may have experienced depression or anxiety created by some life event (death, divorce, loss of a job, etc.). The activity of gambling activates the neurochemicals to override the depression and to help the gambler escape their current negative state. Some individuals become dependent on gambling to relieve their immediate negative feelings and pursue gambling activities in spite of the long term negative consequences. This is biology-not a weakness.
This fact is understood by those who run the games (The House): Over any considerable period of time, all participants must lose. Most problem gamblers will disagree with this statement. In most cases, they remember their periodic wins and assume that this short-term outcome will continue in the long run. The facts are contrary to what they remember. The brain is programmed to remember positive experiences and quickly forget negative experiences. They subconsciously suppress their losses and the destruction caused by their gambling activities. Gamblers remember wins and forget losses. Problem gamblers do not really understand the implication of the odds being against them. Their periodic wins encourage a thought process that tells them it is possible to win in the long run.
There are certain known risk factors for gambling addiction: A big early win sets the gambler up to continue to gamble; issues such as childhood abuse, neglect or abandonment or pre-existing problems such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder and a history of alcohol or drug addiction or alcohol or drug addiction in the family. A stressful life event (death, divorce, job loss, injury/disability) is a common precipitating event.
Certain groups of people are considered at risk for problem gambling?
Seniors because they have more free time, more disposable income, have often suffered losses, may have physical pain, and may be bored, lonely or isolated from friends and family. Many seniors consider gambling a common form of recreation.
Women who have access to their own money/credit, sometimes in unhappy relationships or have unresolved issues with divorce, death, or children, and may not have developed other leisure-time activities.
Youth because they are naive about the numerical odds, may have unsupervised access to the Internet, or may gamble due to peer pressure.
College students because they have access to on-line gambling right from their dorm rooms, receive numerous credit card applications, may gamble on sporting events, and may be naive about the odds
Warning Signs of a gambling problem include:
* Preoccupation with gambling
* Gambling to escape problems
* Lying to cover up gambling
* Increasing the amounts of bets in order to reach the desired excitement
* Unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling
* Being restless/irritable when not gambling
* Chasing” losses with more gambling
* Jeopardizing or losing relationships or jobs because of gambling
* Relying on others to bail him/her out of a desperate financial situation caused by gambling
It’s a known fact that only 10% of those who need help with an addiction ever seek professional help. Problem Gamblers Help Network of WV (1-800-GAMBLER) can help gamblers get their lives back on track. The gambler or the concerned other may call them for treatment resources in your area. The Network can arrange an assessment and treatment by a trained gambling professional at no cost. It is is confidential and it works.
Even if you don’t have a problem with gambling, there are certain Rules for Responsible Gambling. If you gamble, remember this…
Substance-addicted brains are hard wired to also become addicted to gambling. Electronic Gambling Machines are designed and engineered to keep you playing.
Gambling is entertainment, never play to win, and remember the House always wins.
When gambling is more than a game, no one wins.
Sandra Street, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Wheeling, with more than 30 years of experience in the mental health field. She also is an international certified gambling counselor.