It starts out as fun, then becomes fun with problems, and then just problems — don’t wait until then to get help.
My dear Singularians, I’ve lived in Las Vegas for over 20 years and I’m still amazed when I see gambling machines in supermarkets and delis. As a “local” I’ve heard the stories: the “big bet” that paid off and was lost the next day; the widows who are glued to a slot machine chair until their inheritance is gone; and the wow-worthy perks given to casino regulars and high stakes players. Developed by the greatest marketing minds in the world, even the floor plans of casinos are designed to draw you deeper into “the next big win.”
In America, it’s estimated that nine million people, or one in 50, are betting “over their head.” Pathological gambling often starts with those who have lost a partner, either by death or break-up. The cost is losing it all: family, friends, jobs and homes — even your freedom.
* The Culture of Gambling
I still remember as a child, watching my grandmother play poker. She even had a custom-made visor. The game was her weekly social recreation: cards, tea and cake. Of course there was Las Vegas, and later gambling in Atlantic City, but these were “vacations” and “special events” that required packing a suitcase. And yes, there were “bookies” who took illegal sports bets, but these were easier to find in mob movies than in the average person’s neighborhood.
All that has changed. Today, we live in a world where gambling is legal in many parts of America and always available online. Depending upon the game, gambling offers the ultimate high (as in craps), or numbing escape (as in pulling a lever like an robot) all with the hope that instantaneously, you can become a millionaire.
* What is gambling “addiction?”
Pathological gambling also known as compulsive gambling occurs when you can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when your life is falling apart. You’ll bet whether you’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed, and you’ll keep gambling regardless of the consequences, even when you know that the odds are against you or you can’t afford to lose.
* Who is Likely to Become a Pathological Gambler?
I once saw a Twilight Zone episode (my addiction) about a miserly older man and his wife who won a trip to Vegas. The husband preached when she wanted to bet a nickel. By the end of the episode, the now broke hubby was being chased by a slot machine — out a hotel window.
Although problem gamblers come from all kinds of backgrounds, those more likely to be susceptible are often trying to fill a void in their lives. They may be depressed, grieving, lonely, unrealistic, grandiose, have poor impulse control, mental health issues or other addictions. While their esteem may be low, their need for fast action/adventure is high. With bravado they don’t really feel, they’re often hard to recognize — which is why you can’t predict who will wind up being “chased” by that machine.
* When it’s A Problem
Many people can gamble socially without a problem. They realistically assume they’ll lose, and consider it the cost of the entertainment. Once their gambling budget is lost, they run to the buffet.
On the other hand, some, especially after a win, get hooked on fantasy, even when they start losing, believing a win is just one play away. It can happen to anyone from any walk of life. Pathological gambling is particularly vicious because unlike alcoholism or drug addiction, it’s not visible. One can’t smell or see it — until the world around them crashes.
Here are seven major signs to watch for whether you’re playing in a casino or online.
– You’re secretive or lie to family and friends about both the frequency of your gambling and amounts you’ve won or lost.
– You’re preoccupied with the “business” of gambling: planning where and when you’ll go, how to get the money to play.
– You lose control. No matter how much you’ve won or lost you can’t walk away. If you lose, you keep upping the bets to win back or “chase” your losses. You feel it’s your “turn” to win. Many pathological gamblers are highly superstitious. If you win, it’s never enough, even if you wind up losing it all and more. You’re hooked on the excitement.
– You think of gambling as a “quick fix” to money and other problems.
– You lose it all and will engage in risky or dangerous behavior to get more cash for the next bet: using money for the mortgage, maxing out your credit cards, borrowing, selling, even stealing.
– You feel irritable when you try to cut down or stop.
– Others are catching onto the secrecy, lies, “lost” money, and are deeply worried or angry with you.
Get help soon. The longer you lie to yourself and others, the more difficult it is to break the cycle and repair the financial and relationship damage. I would love to tell you that cities known for gaming promote “healthy” gambling, but many do not. By the time you’re willing to ask for help, you’ve crashed.
If you move past “recreational” gambling, and find yourself out of control, get help early — before the fun stops.
When I moved to Las Vegas a local celeb and I were talking. I’ll never forget what he said: “They didn’t build these castles on winners.” Think about it.
NATIONAL PROBLEM GAMBLING HELPLINE: 1-800-522-4700
Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2017 Singular Communications, LLC
Advice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications. She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work. In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on Liveperson.com, on Presto Experts or Thumbtack/Las Vegas. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.