Part 2: Recovery Resources looks at gambling addiction

Entertainment is not a bad thing until it becomes addiction. It becomes addiction when a consumer becomes consumed by it, owned by it. Let’s take a look at gambling addiction. You don’t think about what you want to do. It becomes about what you have to do.

Our friend, “Daniel,” shared the story of the afternoon when he made that gigantic step and called Gamblers Anonymous (GA).

He had just gambled away $500 and had to tell his young daughter he didn’t have money to buy her a basketball. His wife left him after 23 years. He didn’t realize she would ever go. Daniel has suffered multiple addictions. He says his childhood was traumatic, but his twin brother has never, to his knowledge, been afflicted by addiction.

Jennifer Clegg, gambling program supervisor at Recovery Resources (RR) in Cleveland, addresses the problem of gambling addiction. RR helps people triumph over mental illness, alcoholism and other addictions.

“Research indicates that people with a history of addiction in their family are predisposed to becoming an addict,” Clegg says. “It’s hard to know why one person becomes an addict and another doesn’t.

“Genetic predisposition is a risk factor to gambling addiction,” Clegg added. “When you combine the predisposition with other risk factors such as environment that is favorable to gambling, early big win, distorted thought process about disorders, mental illness, etc., a person is more likely to develop a gambling problem.”

Clegg said that many people dealing with trauma have resorted to gambling to escape reality they can’t cope with. “Gambling allows them to forget and often block some of the negative thoughts. We also know that there is a high rate of veterans, especially those exposed to war trauma , that become addicted to gambling.” Some veterans admit they are looking for the adrenalin rush they experience in combat. Some forms of gambling give them that rush.

“When a person is ‘in action,’ whether they are in the act of gambling or thinking about gambling, the part of the brain that controls judgment shuts off. When a person comes back to reality, they are often filled with guilt and shame.

“We also know that there are high rates of suicide among gamblers due to the sense of hopelessness or serious financial issues. Many gamblers may consider suicide. In many cases, gamblers will lie, manipulate, sell possessions or steal in order to get money to gamble to try to escape that reality.”

Parents need to teach their children about the potential dangers of gambling and about money management, Clegg advises. “Many parents will hold card parties for their children or the high school may sponsor casino night for after prom. If schools choose to do these activities they should include education around gambling addiction.”

Codependency has a hand in the problem. “In many cases family members and friends feel that if they bail the gambler out, pay off bills and debts, they can help the gambler,” Clegg said. But, “By dealing a gambler out, you allow them more ammunition to gamble. When they take the easy way out, they are more likely to go back to the old problem because they do not have to suffer the consequences.

“Often gamblers will file bankruptcy, which we highly discourage. A gambler is more likely to be successful if they have to work hard to pay back the debts that they owe. That is a big part of GA and part of their fourth step.”

But it’s difficult for family members to watch the gambler suffer the consequences. It is important for that gambler to face the negative consequences of their actions. It is estimated that 90 percent of the adult population can gamble without problems.

“Unfortunately,” says Clegg, “the small percentage of those who experience negative consequences is devastating. Education and awareness is crucial. Understanding the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction and where to go for help is crucial.”

Some succeed at recovery. Others do not. Their best chances for recovery are professional treatment and a 12-step program.