Gambling addiction is no game

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 21 2014 | 12:11 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:58 am in

By Traci Kent

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Working as a gambling counselor provides me with many opportunities to ponder the ways people tend to mourn. It was during one of those moments that I sat at my desk, reflecting on the circumstances of my first meeting with her.

She phoned, beside herself with the ever-growing realization that she had a gambling problem. She had left the casino physically ill, emotionally distraught and contemplating ending her life. It was then that she first picked up the phone and asked for help.

Her story is familiar. It started with bingo or an occasional trip to the casino with her mom. As her mom’s cancer progressed, it seemed there were fewer and fewer activities that her mom was able or wanted to do.

However, there seemed to be something magical about gambling. Sitting in front of the machines often was mesmerizing. Excitement flowed through her veins, and oddly enough, she didn’t seem to hurt. As her mother’s illness progressed, she found herself dedicating more and more of her time caring for her mother. The day finally came, and the loss of her mother seemed to seep into every part of her being. Gambling provided a great reprieve. She felt no pain, had no worries. As time progressed, she found herself consumed with gambling thoughts and activities.

It was just a matter of time before the financial, social and emotional toll became too much to ignore. The burdens and regrets; the look of betrayal on her husband’s face; the lying to friends, family and self; the loss of income and time; the reality of it all.

This is not an uncommon situation. People are more likely to develop a gambling problem when they’re coping with major life changes or losses. The sudden social isolation that can come with retirement, the increased awareness of physical limitations that accompany aging, and the grief after the death of loved ones constitute an overwhelming number of difficult life transitions that make older adults particularly vulnerable to developing gambling problems.

Problem gambling affects all ages. It is no respecter of income, education or gender.

With March recognized as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, we at Substance Abuse Services Center want to spread awareness about problem gambling, provide hope for successful recovery and

better educate the public on how to gamble responsibly.

The prevalence of gambling is woven into everyday life, from poker nights to Internet games to bingo parlors to Sunday football. Gambling is occasional and fun for most adults, but for about 8 million Americans, it negatively affects finances, work and family. Gambling is legal in all states except Utah and Hawaii.

“Gambling becomes a serious problem when you can’t stop,” says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The American Psychiatric Association classifies gambling disorder as persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family or vocational pursuits. However, it is a treatable addiction with multiple resources available to gamblers and their families.

Signs of a gambling problem include:

l Lying to loved ones about gambling activity;

l Deterioration of work performance;

l Trouble concentrating;

l Missing deadlines and important responsibilities;

l Worry about mounting debts and inability to pay them.

National Problem Gambling Awareness Month is a grass-roots public awareness and outreach campaign to educate the public and health care professionals about the warning signs of problem gambling and the help that is available locally and nationally.

For more information on gambling treatment or for a confidential consultation, contact SASC at: info@SASC-dbq.org or (563) 582-3784.

l Traci H. Kent works for Substance Abuse Services Center, a gambling and addiction treatment center in Dubuque, with offices in Cedar Rapids and Manchester, and has 27 years of experience as a social worker. Comments: gwattnem@gmail.com

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