Gambling: Addiction with High Costs
by Amara Durham
It is estimated that 80-90 percent of all American adults have gambled to some extent. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the State of Connecticut recently finished a nationwide study on problem gambling and found that there are about 2 1/2 million pathological or addicted gamblers, 3 million problem gamblers and about 15 million at-risk gamblers in the United States. The Department also reported that women make up the fastest growing group of problem gamblers. It was not until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association included pathological gambling as a disorder of impulse control and not until this year that it will have its own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Problem gamblers experience intense excitement, power and hopeful anticipation as a result of the “action” of gambling. For some who gamble, a dependency on the “action” of gambling takes place in a similar way to a dependency on the effects of alcohol or other drugs. Research has shown that gambling affects some of the same neurotransmitters, like serotonin, as alcohol and drugs.The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling found that there is a correlation between gambling and substance abuse:
· 75 percent of all pathological gamblers have had problems with alcohol.
· 38 percent of all pathological gamblers have had problems with other drugs.
· 10 percent of all individuals with a substance abuse problem have had a gambling problem.
The study also concluded that substance abusers and gamblers share many characteristics:
· Preoccupation with the activity
· Use to escape pain or uncomfortable feelings
· Intense craving
· Need to increase the amount of use/or money spent gambling over time to achieve desired affect
· Inability to stop despite negative consequences
Unlike substance abuse, there are no visible signs of a gambling problem. The Council noted that compulsive gambling is often called a “hidden addiction.” Gambling sometimes is considered more difficult to treat because it is an intermittent reinforcer, essentially meaning that the gambler does not get lucky each time and their winning is random in nature. The gambler’s brain has grown used to the idea of periods of not winning unlike an alcoholic or drug addict who receives an immediate “reward” and therefore is cognizant of a discrete period of no alcohol or drug use.
Social and family problems created by pathological gambling are high. Gambling may account for up to 14.2 percent of all annual bankruptcy filings in the U.S. Approximately 19.2 percent of pathological gamblers in a 1997 National Opinion Research Center study had to file for bankruptcy. This NORC study also found that counties that have gambling casinos experience bankruptcy-filing rates 13.65 percent higher than counties that do not. In addition, pathological gamblers often engage in “white collar” crimes such as fraud, embezzlement, or employee theft resulting in higher costs from a policing, judicial, and correctional standpoint. From the family standpoint, the typical problems associated with alcoholism and drug addiction occur along with a tendency to be at greater financial risk due to bankruptcy or credit card problems, to name a few. Additionally, spouses are often left in debt due to their loved ones addiction who often take out credit cards and/or loans in that person’s name or take out second or third mortgages without their loved one knowing about it.
Most addicts today are faced with more than one addiction. Many of these addictions not only co-exist, but interact, reinforce, and fuse to become part of a package—a process referred to as Addiction Interaction Disorder (AID). Co-existing addictions such as drugs and alcohol, gambling, sex, eating, work or the Internet can become chronic and progressive if left unidentified and untreated. In an internal Caron research study involving 485 patients, 45.4 percent admitted to having struggle with one or more forms of compulsive behaviors during the last 30 days (sex, eating or gambling). Caron’s study is significant because it points to the importance of recognizing that other addictions may co-exist with a chemical dependence and, if left undiagnosed and untreated, leaves the individual at risk for relapse.
The DBA Peer Assistance Committee and Caron Texas is honored to sponsor Michael Burke on May 17th at noon at the Belo for a one-hour CLE where he will share his experience, strength and hope regarding his gambling and alcohol addictions.
Amara Durham is Director of Marketing & Community Relations at Caron Treatment Centers-Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.