I am looking outside my office window, which overlooks the Las Vegas strip. In this town, addiction can be seen from all angles. But, Gambling Addiction is not unique to this city and it is a real disorder. About 1% of American adults (nearly 3 million people) are pathological gamblers. 1 out of 3 people who have a gambling problem also have problems with alcohol. 1 out of 4 people who are problem gamblers will seriously consider suicide. Gambling is not limited to casinos. It’s available in almost every town (48 states have some form of gambling). By definition, there are five types of legal gambling in the US:
- Charitable Gaming – church raffles, bingo and silent auctions
- Commercial casino gaming – Las Vegas style casino and card rooms
- Lotteries – available in almost every state except Utah and Hawaii
- Native American gaming – tribal operations
- Parimutuel wagering – horse racing and jai-alai
Just like most things in moderation, gambling can be a fun form of entertainment.
What is “Gambling as Entertainment”?
It is never betting more than you can afford to lose. Let’s take an example, like going to the county fair. You plan on exchanging some money in exchange for some entertainment. Gambling can be a harmless as harmless as that. That is, if, you can decide beforehand how much you are willing to lose – and stick to it. Set a budget for how much is in your comfort zone, and when you lose that amount, stop playing and go somewhere else. Remember, in the long run you will always lose money!!
Types of Gamblers
Social Gambler – Gambles for entertainment. Spends a small amount of time and money on gambling activities. It is not given much thought or attention.
Problem Gambler – Devotes more time, thought and money, towards gambling.
Compulsive Gambler (sometimes called compulsive gambler) – Uncontrollable urge to gamble. It can preoccupy most of their time. Gambling is the most important thing in their life.
Criminal Gambler (Organized Crime) – Launders illegal gambling revenue.
Professional Gambler – Makes a living through gambling. Bets in a controlled way. This person handles losses well and does not let gambling interfere with normal activities.
Well Known Gamblers
- Tiger Woods – rumored to bet as much as $25,000 in one hand when he takes to the casino
- Charlie Sheen – his ex-wife stated that he used to spend about $20,000 a week on sports gambling
- Charles Barley – once said that his love for gambling cost him ten million dollars!
- Terrance Watanabe – is not a celebrity but he did lose $127 million during a year-long binge in 2007 at Caesars Palace Casino
Why Might a Person Gamble?
Escape. This person gambles as a way to escape life’s problems. They prefer games like bingo, slot machines, video games and lottery tickets.
Action. This person seeks adrenaline. They gamble to feel excitement. They prefer games like dice, sports, roulette and horse racing.
Three Phases of Addiction
The search for a “win” – The winning enhances self-esteem and ego. The losses are rationalized as bad luck. There is normally a “big win” that this person will incessantly talk about. This person almost always has fantasies about winning and unreasonable optimism.
The chase for a “win” – Losses are happening more frequently and self-esteem is crumbling. The gambler will borrow money to “get even”. Expect:
– Constant lies
– Hiding activities from work, family and friends
– Thinking obsessively about gambling
– Bragging about wins
– Personality changes
The search for hitting bottom – The gambler withdrawals from society. They will often turn to illegal activities to support their habit. Suicide may be contemplated. There will be loss of reputation, family, job and friends.
Rock bottom – There will be hopelessness and possibly a suicidal attempt. The person might get arrested, divorced or hospitalized from a mental breakdown. This is a very grave condition. Gambling Addicts have a very high rate of suicide.
Treating Gambling Problems with Alcohol Abuse
When we talk about the combination of problem gambling and alcohol abuse, it’s like “which came first, the chicken or the egg”. Don’t waste your time pondering this too much because without treatment, neither one is going fix itself. An alcoholic can’t think themselves out of drinking. Neither can a problem gambler just walk away and never gamble again.
Professional help is the best way to overcome both problem gambling and alcohol abuse. Since relapse is common with both disorders, a person who’s in recovery also needs to be careful to avoid the triggers to drink and gamble. It’s critical to continue to work on skills to deal with stress that may trigger a relapse. Note: an alcohol detox that is medically supervised might also be needed, if the person is drinking heavily every day.
A problem gambler and alcohol abuser might need more than one time in rehab before they are confident enough and practiced enough to function effectively in recovery. This isn’t a hard rule, but it is true sometimes. The reality is that millions of Americans have gone through treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence and sought help for problem gambling and are today living healthy, happy and productive lives that are alcohol and gambling-free.