What is compulsive gambler?
A compulsive gambler is defined as an individual who suffers from a disorder in which he/she has a psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation or urge to gamble. As in other compulsive behavioral disorders, tolerance develops and greater and more frequent gambling risks are required to maintain mood elevation. As the compulsion progresses, the urge to gamble intensifies, making it more difficult to resist. Left untreated, compulsive gambling will eventually interfere with almost every aspect of one's life. The range of compulsive gambling behaviors addressed in treatment includes sports betting, casino gambling, racetrack betting, manipulation of stocks and bonds and futures commodities, and speculative investments.
Legalized gambling is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Gambling's tremendous popularity is evident in the recent increase in the number of off-track-betting parlors (OTBs) and riverboat casinos that dot the Midwest and the Mississippi Delta. Billboards on major highways depict the action and excitement available at such facilities. Families are broken, lives are ruined, all because of someone fooled into believing they can be fulfilled by a jackpot.
For most of the industry's patrons, gambling is fun and a form of harmless entertainment. For the four to six percent of gamblers who become problem or pathological (compulsive) gamblers, however, it can be a devastating illness that negatively affects every aspect of their lives. What is unique about the current gambling situation is the speed at which it has gone from an undercurrent in American society to high-profile, socially recognized activity.
Some Characteristics of Problem Gamblers
- Problem gamblers are more likely to be male than female
- Problem gamblers usually bet larger amounts on all forms of gambling
- Problem gamblers gamble more frequently
- Problem gamblers spend more time per gambling session
- Problem gamblers are more likely to have been in trouble with the police
- Problem gamblers are more likely to say they have been rejected by family members
What is the difference between casual social gambling and pathological gambling?
Gambling can be defined as playing a game of chance for stakes. Gambling occurs in many forms, most commonly pari-mutuels (horse and dog tracks, off-track-betting parlors, Jai Alai), lotteries, casinos (slot machines, table games), bookmaking (sports books and horse books), card rooms, bingo and the stock market.
Pathological gambling is a progressive disease that devastates not only the gambler but everyone with whom he or she has a significant relationship. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association accepted pathological gambling as a "disorder of impulse control." It is an illness that is chronic and progressive, but it can be diagnosed and treated.
People who suspect a gambling problem in themselves, a friend, or a family member may recognize the following warning signs:
- Increasing preoccupation with gambling
- Use of gambling as a way to escape problems or relieve depression
- Inability to stop playing regardless of winning or losing, and despite constant vows to abstain
- Restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
- Use of alcohol, sleep, or drugs to escape
- Lying to family members or others to hide the amount of gambling
- Impatience with family or friends
- Relying on others for money to relieve a financial problem that arose due to gambling (legal and illegal sources)
- Absenteeism and tardiness at work
- Neglect of responsibility
- Losing or jeopardizing an important relationship due to gambling
- Wide mood swings
- Belief when winning that it will not stop
- Gambling another day to win back money lost gambling
- The gambling industry has grown tenfold in the U.S. since 1975
In 1973 state lotteries had $2 billion in sales. By 1997, the revenues reached $34 billion
- Gambling profits in casinos are more than $30 billion while lotteries are about $17 billion annually
- “Players” with household incomes under $10,000 bet nearly three times as much on lotteries as those with incomes over $50,000
- Two-thirds of the adult population placed some kind of bet last year
- 15 million people display some sign of gambling addiction
- Thirty-seven states now have lotteries
- After casinos opened in Atlantic City, the total number of crimes within a thirty-mile radius increased 100 percent
- The average debt incurred by a male pathological gambler in the U.S. is between $55,000 and $90,000 (it is $15,000 for female gamblers)
- The Internet boasts 110 sport-related gambling sites
- The average rate of divorce for problem gamblers is nearly double that of non-gamblers
- There are now approximately 260 casinos on Indian reservations (in 31 states and with $6.7 billion in revenue)
- The suicide rate for pathological gamblers is twenty times higher than for non-gamblers (one in five attempts suicide)
- Sixty-five percent of pathological gamblers commit crimes to support their gambling habit
- According to the American Psychological Association the Internet could be as addictive as alcohol, drugs, and gambling
- Gambling among young people is on the increase: 42 percent of 14-year-olds, 49 percent of 15-year-olds, 63 percent of 16-year-olds, 76 percent of 18-year-olds.
The Custer Three Phase Model
Robert L. Custer, M.D., identified the progression of gambling addiction as including three phases:
- The Winning Phase
During the winning phase, gamblers experience a big win or a series of wins that leaves them with unreasonable optimism that their winning will continue. This leads them to feel great excitement when gambling, and they begin increasing the amounts of their bets.
- The Losing Phase
During the losing phase, the gamblers often begin bragging about wins they have had, start gambling alone, think more about gambling and borrow money legally or illegally. They start lying to family and friends and become more irritable, restless and withdrawn. Their home life becomes more unhappy, and they are unable to pay off debts. The gamblers begin to "chase" their losses, believing they must return as soon as possible to win back their losses.
- The Desperation Phase
During the desperation phase, there is a marked increase in the time spent gambling. This is accompanied by remorse, blaming others and alienating family and friends. Eventually, the gamblers may engage in illegal acts to finance their gambling. They may experience hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and attempts, arrests, divorce, alcohol and/or other drug abuse, or an emotional breakdown.
Who is affected?
Current estimates suggest that three percent of the adult population will experience a serious problem with gambling that will result in significant debt, family disruption, job losses, criminal activity or suicide. Pathological gambling affects the gamblers, their families, their employers and the community. As the gamblers progress through the various phases, they spend less time with their family and spend more of their family's money on gambling until their bank accounts are depleted. Then they may steal money from family members.
At work, the pathological gambler misuses time in order to gamble, has difficulty concentrating and finishing projects and may engage in embezzlement, employee theft or other illegal activities.
The compulsion to gamble is progressive. In most people, it begins slowly and grows until the victim's life becomes unmanageable. As repeated efforts to gain control fail, life for the compulsive gambler begins to fall apart.
If the compulsive gambler could stop chasing losses, he would. All compulsive gamblers can stop gambling... for a while. But most people need professional help to stop for life.
Information provided to Recovery Television by the Illinois Institute
for Addiction Recovery www.addictionrecov.org/addicgam.htm
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