National Problem Gambling Awareness Week is Sunday through March 10. This is a campaign sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) to educate both the public and health care professionals about the warning signs of uncontrolled gambling and the programs available to treat it.
An estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of social gamblers qualify as pathological gamblers. Although more men than women suffer from gambling addictions, women are developing the disorder at ahigher rate, now making up one quarter of all problem gamblers. Men tend to develop gambling problems in their teens; women’s afflictions arise later in their lives.
A few gamblers encounter problems with their very first wager. Most are able to socially gamble for years without any concerns. But increased life stresses or bouts of anxiety or depression can cause gamblers to become obsessive about their gambling and about acquiring the money needed to do it.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, pathological gamblers display the following symptoms:
A preoccupation with gambling, either by reliving past gambling experiences, planning their next excursions, or constantly thinking about new ways to finance their gambling behavior.
A need for more and more money for gambling in order to reach the desired level of gambling enjoyment.
Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or reduce gambling.
Irritability when trying to stop gambling.
A tendency to gamble for the purpose of escaping problems or to re duce sadness or anxiety.
A pattern of gambling again after losing money in an effort to recoup losses.
Lies to family members intended to hide the extent of the gambling.
Crimes committed to finance gambling.
A willingness to risk losing relationships or employment because of gambling.
Requests for money to pay gambling debts.
In addition, Gamblers Anonymous notes that compulsive gamblers have problems accepting reality and frequently turn to the fantasy world of gambling.
They are psychologically insecure; pathological gamblers often make such statements as, “I never feel comfortable unless I’m at a craps table.”
Finally, they are emotionally immature. They want the finer things in life without having to put out the effort to achieve them. They also want to be seen by others as competent and powerful.
Treatment for gambling addiction can take a variety of forms.
Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step program. Effectiveness studies have shown abstinence rates of 8 percent after one year.
Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy teaches gamblers how to manage their anxious, compulsive symptoms and to make wise choices for themselves. In addition, various medications have proven useful in decreasing both the urge to gamble and the thrill that accompanies the behavior.
For more information, visit the Gamblers Anonymous website, http://www.GamblersAnonymous.org, or contact the group by phone at 1-888-GA-HELP. If you are concerned about a loved one’s gambling, contact Gam-Anon at http://www.gam-anon.org.
ASK YOURSELF 20 QUESTIONS
Wonder if your gambling is a problem? Ask yourself these 20 questions offered by Gamblers Anonymous:
1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
7. After losing, did you feel compelled to return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
8. After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
13. Did gambling make you careless regarding your family’s welfare or your own?
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping? 18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create an urge to gamble?
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
According to GA, most compulsive gamblers will answer yes to at least seven of these questions.