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ABC’s of Problem Gambling: Addiction, Boredom and Comfort
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Problem gambling is an issue for many different people, but the reasons aren't always the same. Some are addicted, some bored and some search for comfort. Before we get into this, let's be clear about one thing -- I'm not a doctor and I'm not a replacement for one. If you believe you have a serious issue, visit Gamblers Anonymous or your current physician. This post isn't for the casual gambler who sets a limit, stays within that limit and leaves when they are done. It's also not for the gambler who leaves when they're no longer having fun. Would you go to a movie over and over again if you didn't like it? Didn't think so. With that said, this post combines facts with personal experiences. I've had my own problems with gambling in the past and having been in the industry for so long, I've become very good at spotting the signs. Before we can talk about what to do about the problem, we have to understand WHY we're gambling.
Are You Addicted? The brain of an addicted gambler reacts differently than the brain of a non-addicted gambler. Similar to drugs and alcohol, we can become addicted to gambling. Addiction is defined as "craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences." Harvard Medical School believes that a person who is addicted loses control over the way their brain works. The chemistry in your brain changes the way pleasure is received and in turn, it degrades other "normal" drives like learning and motivation. This is why an addicted gambler will continually hurt the people they love, lose their jobs and bankrupt themselves in order to gamble. We won't get into the full list of questions asked by Gamblers Anonymous to help determine if you're addicted. The basic gist of it is whether or not the gambling is increasing in volume, regardless of result, whether you're lying and continue to lie about the extent of your gambling and whether it's taking precedence over the rest of your previously-important activities. If you're missing out on time with your family to gamble, if you're getting behind on bills and if you're saving money by not buying necessities because it takes away from your gambling fund...those are major red flags. The truly addicted gambler isn't going to "just stop." They need help on a consistent basis. This is why having a sponsor and attending meetings is so valuable. If you or someone you know is having addiction problems, help is not far away. My personal experience with gambling was unique. As it turns out, I don't believe I was addicted. We'll get into that more shortly. With that said, I experienced the same highs and lows of any addict. I almost lost my family, my house and my life. It's a big reason why I started this blog, because I want to help others who feel like there isn't anyone willing to help them. Let's move on.
Are You Bored? You've heard that you're not supposed to gamble or drink when you're angry, bored or lonely, right? Similar to how we tend to overeat when we're watching television, we tend to gamble too much when we're bored. There's a reason those casinos are built and designed the way that they are. It's an attack on your senses and it strips you of a lot of your inhibitions and logic. Dealers are very much like bartenders in the sense that we get regular customers of every race, creed, class and gender. People that don't have anywhere else to go find themselves sitting at table because they enjoy the social aspect of gambling. They like the camaraderie of a group of people winning and they like to be able to talk to someone without having to be judged or without worry they'll face them in their "regular" life. Unfortunately, gambling often costs a lot of money. Just like people unknowingly eat that bag of potato chips until they realize they're all gone, people continue to pull out the $100's because they're "enjoying" the conversation or don't have anything else to do. I see this a lot with seniors. They're on a fixed budget and enjoy playing some of the games. It's always worst in the people who don't have families or friends nearby. The casino and the workers become their family and friends. Even though they can't afford to come out, they keep coming out. Very little of my gambling had to do with being bored. When I played poker I found that I enjoyed the company less and less. Instead of hanging out with people I enjoyed, I was hanging out with people I loathed. My big issue is the next one on our list.
Do You Gamble For Comfort? This is a major issue and for some, it leads into the addiction phase. When you get down to it, the world is filled with a lot of negativity. We have to deal with death, taxes, our jobs, our angry spouses, our defiant children and a litany of other problems. Is it fun to just sit around and think about those things so we can deal with them? It's smart, but it's not fun. Enter the casino and their attack on your senses again. You could go to a movie but you're going to see some of the same kinds of issues you're trying to forget about. It may sound like common sense to avoid creating more problems when you've got lots of problems (because it is), but that's the mind of a problem gambler. You've got a $1000 payment due tomorrow and $500 in your pocket. You could be as responsible as possible and pay a portion, while trying to work out some sort of a plan....or you could try to double that $500 to $1000 so you can pay your bill! So you walk into the casino and after a nice run of luck, you look down and you've got your $1000! But wait...that means you'll be "broke" after paying the $1000. So, you continue to play and the inevitable arrives in your face like a heart attack. Lose, lose, lose, lose and then lose. Suddenly you're back to $700 (still in better shape than when you got there), but you feel like you've lost $300. Of course you continue to play...until it's all gone and you are now broke AND owe the $1000. This was my biggest problem. I was using the casino to avoid dealing with some non-gambling personal issues. In doing so, I created some very real gambling personal issues. The smarter route, as always, is to deal with your problems as opposed to run. Instead, I ran from my problems, created more, ran from those and repeated that until I hit the wall.
Steps To Recovery If you truly feel like you belong in one of those categories, it's time to make some change in your life. Look in the mirror, be honest with yourself and realize that the path you're on ends badly. Surround yourself with like-minded people who have your best interests in mind. If they don't respect your new way of life, they aren't your friends. Again, I'm not a doctor nor do I claim to have all the answers. Each person is different and responds in their own way. One thing is for sure -- honesty is truly the best policy. Don't lie to your friends, your work, your family or anyone else. There's a bit of a stigma attached to having a gambling problem, but it pales in comparison to the life you can live out of the shadows and without having to keep track of lies.