Gambling is playing a game for money, assets, or collateral. This includes but is not limited to casinos, horse races, dog races, lotteries, card rooms, and playing the stock market. In1980 the American Psychiatric Association defined compulsive gambling or pathological gambling as an Impulse Control disorder. Like addiction, compulsive gambling is a psychological behavioural addiction driven by the high of placing a bet and the adrenalin of winning.
You can't get something for nothing
According to the Williamsville Wellness program in Hanover Virginia, an residential treatment facility that has been treating people individually for gambling addiction for 60 years, there are 6 to 10 million compulsive gamblers in the U.S. today. The Williamsville Wellness facility maintains that compulsive gambling is a progressive illness that is diagnosable and treatable. It has been called the "hidden illness" because it is not as obvious as other addictions may be. The compulsive gambler desires greatness without effort and escapes into a dream world of gambling where the next lucky break is just about to happen. The compulsive gambler will bet everything, lose everything, and then beg, borrow, and steal to keep in the game despite the consequences of lost income, assets, and relationships. The most serious consequence of gambling aside from utter financial ruin is suicide.
Do you feel lucky?
Dr. Robert L. Custer started the first inpatient gambling program in Cleveland in 1972, at the Brecksville VA Medical Center eight years before it was clinically defined by The American Psychiatric Association in 1980. Dr. Robert Politzer was instrumental in developing the first state funded compulsive gambling recovery program through John Hopkins Hospital from 1979-1983. Dr Valerie Lorenz is credited with pivotal research in the family of the compulsive gambler. She developed a prototype recovery program for gambling addiction that she now teaches at the Williamsville Wellness resident facility in Hanover, Virginia. Her program focuses on one on one therapy with a strong emphasis of family. Dr. Politzer and Dr. Lorenz have co-chaired the Maryland Task Force on Compulsive Gambling which elaborates on the work problems, social crimes and economic costs of this addiction.
Don't gamble with what you can't afford to lose
Many people start to gamble innocently enough. Just out for a good time, the first time gambler is drawn to the excitement of betting and the allure of winning. And what's the harm? After all, it's perfectly legal. But that initial adrenalin and "rush" of betting often leads to addiction. The gambler begins to bet more and more despite losses. As the compulsion to gamble increases, the "game" is the only thing that the gambler thinks about. Pathological gambling leads to a myriad of social ills such as depression, suicide, bankruptcy, family break-up, domestic abuse, assault, fraud and homelessness.
Gambling: Just say no.
Addictive gambling is defined in three stages. In the first stage, the gambler experiences an initial winning streak releasing intense amounts of adrenalin into the brain. Wishing to duplicate that initial "high" the gambler pays any price to get that feeling again. In the second phase, the gambler starts to lose from time to time and begins to bet more and more money despite the consequences which leads to a vicious cycle of debt. Stage three is the desperate phase. At the advanced stage of compulsive gambling, the person has suffered considerable loss, experiences intense distress, isolation, and a sense of futility.
The allure of "easy money"
Electronic gaming machines (EGMs) are the most addictive form of gambling ever created. Due to the crazy lights, colours, and sounds, the gambler gets caught up into a whirlpool of velocity gambling faster and faster, losing more and more. Video lottery terminals (VLT) take only one year of regular playing to become addicted. Sixty-per cent of all VLT revenue comes from compulsive gamblers and are the single largest source of gambling revenue in many countries. Slots can be found in casinos, race tracks, bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, billiard halls and gas stations across the land. Horse racing, sports betting, and card games take up to four years of regular playing to become addicted.
Treatments for Gambling
According to the Williamsville Wellness program, only 15 per cent of compulsive gamblers ever seek treatment. Most pathological gamblers do not believe they have a problem and remain untreated. The Williamsville Wellness program that has been used for 60 years by recovering gamblers believes that compulsive gambling is symptomatic of underlying problems such as isolation, boredom, and loneliness that have lead to this psychiatric disorder. They testify that treatment is the best chance of recovery. They utilise family therapy, educational groups, and Gamblers Anonymous meetings which use a 12-step program the same way Alcoholics Anonymous does. The typical program lasts four weeks and the patient stays 24 x 7 at the facility. Sometimes less treatment is needed, sometimes more, depending upon the severity of the case.
Recovery from gambling addiction
Treatment from gambling has a low success rate. Only 15 per cent of pathological gamblers are ever treated and only a fraction of that small percentage can kick the habit for good. Most gamblers return to the "game" after abstaining for awhile. One of the most effective treatments is offered by Gamblers Anonymous which is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. The program is designed to be a fellowship of people sharing a similar problem. At best, the pathological gambler can maintain normal living by not gambling or hanging out with people who gamble or near games, and by attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings regularly. Like sex, drugs, alcohol, and shopping, gambling is a risky and addictive behaviour. The best way to avoid a gambling problem is to not start. Like so many things, just because it's legal, doesn't mean it's good. So do yourself a favour and don't start. And if you have a pathological gambler in your life, the first thing to do is to cut off funds for gambling as in not giving him/her a loan. The second would be to seek out treatment at either an inpatient facility like Williamsville Wellness or enrol in a local Gamblers Anonymous Group. The pathological gambler is taking the ultimate chance....with his/her life.