Gambling Addiction and Recovery

Gambling addiction gets needed attention in March, Problem Gambling Awareness Month, a time when lottery programs and casinos take a risk of a different kind by pointing some things out to their often big-playing and big-paying participants, many of whom they’d actually lose if more addicted gamblers could admit or recognize their need to quit.

Problem is, most won’t, according to available statistics.

What’s involved in gambling addiction? The addict may engage in one or more of the possible varieties of play—e.g., card games, slot machines, betting on sporting events, lotteries—and experience any or all of the following ramifications and more—depression and anxiety, co-occurring substance abuse and dependence, loss of one’s job, divorce, commission of crimes, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Whereas support groups like Gamblers Anonymous have proven effective over time, some therapies have not fared as well. The latter includes antidepressants for impulse-control disorders, while things that work better include opioid antagonists and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Another resource is the national helpline (888-LAST-BET) run by Arnie and Sheila Wexler. Along with Steve Jacobson, decades-long recovering gambler and certified counselor Arnie Wexler is the author of the 2015 All Bets Are Off: Losers, Liars, and Recovery from Gambling Addiction.

Although the book is largely about Arnie’s pre-treatment struggles, it’s also about how his wife, Sheila Wexler, also now a gambling addiction counselor, was significantly affected by them.

How the Wexlers view the evolution of gambling problems in this culture (Addiction Professional): “The profile of the gambling addict has changed considerably over the past two decades, say the Wexlers. Back then only about one in five of the individuals they were helping were women. That percentage has continued to grow as more ‘escape gamblers’ attracted to slot machines have experienced problems.”

What about treatment? “Many programs that treat alcohol use disorders fail to detect a co-occurring issue with gambling, and that’s the behavior an individual will turn back to upon leaving treatment. It’s difficult these days to identify an individual who is not affected by some cross-addiction, the Wexlers say.”

Gambling, often seen as a socially acceptable and legal pastime causing no harm when practiced in moderation, is, on the other hand, currently adversely affecting an increasing number of individuals, including teenagers. If you have any doubts about whether you have a gambling addiction, for starters consider these 20 questions found at the Gamblers Anonymous website.

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