Learn do’s and don’ts to help those affected
The roar of the racetrack, the roll of the dice, or the ring of the slot machine can be exciting, but they also can be concerning and even damaging for millions of Americans struggling with gambling addiction.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which runs the toll-free National Problem Gambling Helpline—(800) 522-4700—2 million U.S. adults are estimated to meet the criteria for severe gambling problems in any given year, with another 4 to 6 million considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems. The council notes that the amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes problematic. In fact, gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact on any area of a person’s life.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says gambling disorder, gambling addiction, or compulsive gambling involve repeated problematic gambling behavior that causes significant problems or distress. APA notes that, for some people, gambling does indeed become an addiction—the effects they get from gambling are similar to effects someone with alcoholism gets from alcohol. Individuals can crave gambling the way someone craves alcohol or other substances, and the activity can lead to problems with finances, relationships, and work, not to mention potential legal issues. Some gamblers are seeking excitement or action in gambling, while others are looking more for escape or numbing. Symptoms of the disorder or addiction include:
- Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement.
- Restlessness or irritability when trying to cut down or stop gambling.
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on, or stop gambling.
- Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, or thinking of ways to get money to gamble).
- Often gambling when feeling distressed.
- After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses).
- Lying to conceal gambling activity.
- Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or educational/career opportunity because of gambling.
- Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling.
If you are concerned about a loved one who may be exhibiting these types of symptoms, APA offers do’s and don’ts to assist:
- Seek the support of others with similar problems; attend a self-help group for families such as Gam-Anon.
- Recognize your loved one’s good qualities.
- Remain calm when speaking to your loved one about his or her gambling and its consequences.
- Let your loved one know that you are seeking help for your own sake because of the way gambling affects you (and possibly your children).
- Explain problem gambling to children.
- Understand the need for treatment of problem gambling despite the time it may involve.
- Set boundaries in managing money; take control of family finances; review bank and credit card statements.
- Preach, lecture, or allow yourself to lose control of your anger.
- Exclude the gambler from family life and activities.
- Expect immediate recovery, or that all problems will be resolved when the gambling stops.
- Bail out the gambler.
- Cover up or deny the existence of the problem to yourself, the family, or others.
APA also cautions that problem gamblers are at increased risk of suicide, and that it’s very important to take any thoughts or talk of suicide seriously. For immediate attention, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or 911 if the individual is in crisis.
Department of Consumer Affairs mental-health licensees are vital resources for those dealing with gambling addiction and those concerned about them, and licensed fiduciaries and certified public accountants also can advise and assist on related financial issues. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.