The Scourge and Reality of a Gambling Addiction

The negative consequences of problem/compulsive gamblers have been widely reported in research findings. The research, from across the world, shows that people who live with a compulsive gambler are at huge risk of mental illness and addictive disorders, violence, insults, embarrassment, and being demeaned in front of children and others. They also live under the cloud of second or third mortgages, illegal loans, formal loans, loss of rent or mortgage funds, which can result in homelessness and eviction. One interesting study done by Lorenz and Shuttlesworth reported that request for assistance at domestic violence shelters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast increased from 100% to 300% following the introduction of casino gambling. Escalation of domestic violence is associated with gambling addiction in many studies carried out across the world. New legislation. New legislation governing gambling is being enacted in Ireland and this legislation is going to allow for on-line gambling and casinos. Up until now casinos were illegal except for ones in private clubs, but because of a loophole in our laws casinos were operating in many places for a considerable time. The irony of this new Bill is that it is going to “include a fund to help treat people with gambling problems and will provide robust safeguards for young people and problem gamblers”. Does this type of thinking remind us of other faux pas of the recent past? And how will these laws be implemented? The very fact that the Government recognises the dangers and the destruction of people who are compulsive gamblers by including this aspect into legislation begs many serious questions of who is demanding such a change in our laws? Who will benefit? Not families and loved ones of those afflicted for sure. Research and data widely available should be noted by our law makers and taken on board when making decisions that will have far reaching consequences for society. No matter how much revenue is collected it will not cover the cost of the problems created and the human misery caused. Escalation of gambling Gambling figures in Ireland have soared to alarming rates. Online betting is the main cause for this massive increase. People with addictions and gambling problems can now sit at their computer and gamble in the privacy of their own home. Tabor Lodge, the largest treatment centre in the south of Ireland has reported a 50% increase in men between the ages of 18 and 35 who sought help over the past two years for their gambling problems. Tabor Lodge also report that 75% of those who gamble on line are problem gamblers compared with 20% of those who frequent casinos or betting shops. Gambling is a serious addiction with long-term consequences for the gambler and the family that surrounds him/her. It is called the “silent addiction” as there is no outward visible signs except a change in personality traits – but these can be profound. Compulsive gamblers are at high risk of suicide and many end their lives because of the shame and the sense of hopelessness that surrounds their problem. So how will the new laws control this scourge that is infiltrating homes across the country now? On-line gambling and a designated number of casinos (40 to be exact and a designated size of 15 tables each) are going to be legalised and therefore acceptable to society. Some people have a “flutter” on the Grand National or some well advertised race once or twice a year, some people play bingo cards for the social aspect. Scratch cards have become a serious problem for many people, especially those on Social Welfare, hoping to increase their income. Some bet on any sport, be it dogs, horses, games, poker, sport results or the myriad of other betting opportunities provided by the eventual recipient of your hard earned cash. For a long number of years we knew that slot machines had an addictive element to them where young people and housewives became addicted to them. They are readily assessable to the young and are the starting point for getting the “buzz” of the odd win. Gambling is a legal way of extorting money from vulnerable clients who have no comeback. Once addiction sets in, the control needed is taken away from the gambler with soul destroying consequences. Upset lives. Of course in recent years we have all become aware of the mega wealthy, who paid the “experts” multi millions to guide them to the best site to make exorbitant profits. They gambled on stocks, shares, property, etc. and we the taxpayers had to pick up the tab so that they could be refunded their capital from our exchequer after deceiving those in charge of the full extent of their gambling. Where were our leaders and watchdogs when all of this gambling or so called “investing” was taking place in our country ?. How could we have been left exposed to the 64 billion euro of gambling debts that our citizens must now pay, for something to which we did not subscribe. We will pay for these gambling debts for a very long time, as will our children and grandchildren. The ordinary gambler is never that lucky. If he/she loses, they lose, full stop. Problem or compulsive gambling interferes with work, finances, relationships and leads to financial ruin for many. It also encourages acts that a person would not normally do like stealing, embezzlement, fraud, being deceitful and manipulative and families have been left without homes, farms, businesses and unimaginable debt. Emotional dysfunction, child abuse and neglect, chaos, violence, domestic abuse, financial instability, friendship/family loss, divorce, separation, depressive and anxiety disorders, misuse of alcohol/drugs and psychological damage are too high a price to pay at this juncture in our country. And to think that we are going to legalise this scourge is an unimaginable madness. Understanding. Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling is an impulse control disorder. There are three phases in gambling, the winning phase, the losing phase and the desperation stage, all three with devastating emotional problems. Gamblers cannot control their gambling habit even when they know it is leading them into trouble and hurting both their families and themselves in the process. Gambling will be uppermost in their thoughts no matter what the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep on gambling whether they are flush or broke, whether they are happy or depressed and even when they know the odds are stacked against them. Gamblers always minimise their problem and only tell when they have won. They cover up when they have lost and keep silent about their deep distress when that happens. Gamblers are always waiting for the big win and never admit to their losses because they feel others will not understand. If gambling disrupts your life and if you spend more and more time and money on it, especially chasing losses, you have a gambling problem. Unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, anxiety, stressful workplaces, fractious relationships, or seeking company can all trigger compulsive gambling habits and set people on a path of going to the races, the casino, bingo, slot machines and betting offices, etc. which all appear to be a fun way of putting down time socializing with people with similar problems to alleviate these feelings. Quitting For many people quitting only comes when their backs are to the wall with finances, either their own or from those they have borrowed, or from monies got illegally and coming to the notice of the law or family members. It is only when every last penny is spent and there is no alternative that people look for help and admit to their compulsion. Red alert is when you are getting more and more frustrated to regain your losses. When you have to revert to spending the household money, borrow from friends, spending to the upper limit on the credit card, sell valuables or beg, borrow, or steal you are a gambling addict. When all these sources of money dry up or fail to materialise and gambling becomes a vicious circle, you need help from professionals to deal with the problem. Gamblers are slow to listen to advice and to the people who carry the worry of debts and borrowings – that’s if they are even aware of them in the beginning. Overcoming a gambling addiction is not easy but like all addictions recovery is possible if you seek and get the necessary support. Every gambler is unique and needs a specific programme tailored to their needs. The first step is to admit you have a problem. It takes a quantum leap of courage and strength to own up to this, especially if your losses are of big and you must face the consequences. How many have gambled away farms, businesses and inheritances – some not even coming to light until death arrives. Suicides are a big risk factor among gamblers, as the statistics show. When the truth must be faced despair and hopelessness sets in and destroys not only the life of the gambler but also the family. Researchers Lesieur and Custer estimated that for every gambler there are 10 to 15 persons whose lives are adversely impacted on by gamblers activities and 87% of problem gamblers threatened and were abusive and controlling of family members. Support groups Gamblers Anonymous was set up in the 1960’s as a recovery programme similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and when Freud wrote about the effects of gambling it signalled widespread recognition of its ill effects on society. Other programmes include the Four Step Programme and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which are also used in the treatment of gamblers for their addiction. The general ideals are to change thoughts, beliefs, to re-label, re-attribute, refocus, revalue and find other pleasurable ways to spend time restructuring a life that has been taken over by the hope of winning and the disgust of losing. Many people quit gambling more easily than other addictions but it is staying in recovery and making a permanent commitment that is the challenge. We are subjected to so many visual programmes on TV encouraging people to partake that it is difficult to avoid the craving. Help for victim and family Surround yourself with people to whom you are accountable, ( wife, partner, boss, or good friends), avoid tempting environments, hand over control of your finances and find other activities you enjoy to replace gambling. Distract yourself by watching a film, go walking or divert your thoughts to doing some chore until the thoughts pass. Call a trusted friend or family member or go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting if things get too overwhelming. Give yourself a reality check regularly and remember the pain and despair you suffered when you were losing with no chance of getting your money back. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip but gather your friends around you for moral support. When faced with the consequences of compulsive gambling, a gambler can suffer a crushing blow to their self worth and self esteem. This is one of the reasons there is a high rate of suicides among gamblers. When the future appears hopeless and ridden with debt these thoughts of ending life to get rid of the pain are often overpowering and any talk or comments should be taken seriously. Depression and gambling addiction often go hand in hand and anxiety brings on cravings for gambling to release the tension. Gambling affects every member of a household, from the bad mood swings to short tempers, to even rage or silence when the gambler is losing so it is important for another adult to take control and try and understand. Don’t preach or lose control of your own feelings or issue ultimatums that you will not carry out. Always include the gambler in family occasions, functions and activities remembering that the problems will not stop when the gambling does. Never bail out the gambler, cover up, or deny the existence of the problems to yourself, the family or others. Do not blame other family members for the gamblers problems. When the gambler uses pleading, manipulation or even threats, have a strategy to deal with it. Set the boundaries and stick to them. It does take time and practice to learn how to respond to these requests to ensure you are not enabling the problem gambler. Keep your own dignity intact. Seek out the support of others who understand or attend Self help groups for spouses and family. The collateral effects of compulsive/pathological gambling should be examined and scrutinized more closely by all elected members of Dail Eireann and should be a top priority before blindly extending any further facilities for such a damaging force to become legalised for our most vulnerable citizens. “Gambling is the son of avarice and the father of despair” French Proverb.