Straight, No Chaser: Questions and Answers About Problem Gambling

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Whether or not you’re willing to admit to a gambling addiction, the presence of a gambling problem should concern you. This Straight, No Chaser takes information  adapted from the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling to address your  questions and concerns.

How is problem gambling defined?
There are a variety of ways to define a gambling problem, but what they all have in common is the presence of a behavior pattern involving gambling that disrupts or damages one’s personal lifestyle, inclusive of family, vocational or other personal pursuits.

How widespread is problem gambling in the U.S.?
2 million (1%) of U.S. adults are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Although that’s a lot of people, it’s a small proportion of the approximately 85% of U.S. adults who have gambled at least once in their lives.

Isn’t problem gambling just about losing money? Actually, no. The reason the topic is being addressed in this space is problem gambling is an emotional problem that has financial consequences, not just the presence of being a bad gambler who has lost a lot of money. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association even has criteria for gambling addiction (see www.psych.org for more). The bottom line is the problem gambler has an obsession with gambling.

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What are the symptoms of problem gambling? 

  • increasing preoccupation with gambling
  • a need to bet more money more frequently
  • restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop
  • “chasing” losses
  • loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.
  • In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.

What kind of people become problem gamblers? Actually, it’s been shown that anyone who gambles can develop problems. Remember, a gambling problem is defined by the outcome of a meaningful disruption to at least part of one’s life. Many problem gamblers are views as previously responsible and mentally strong until propelled into the crises brought on by gambling. This is not an affliction of just the irresponsible, weak-minded or weak-willed. It is of note that children and teens can also develop gambling problems.

Is problem gambling “caused” by predatory activity of casinos, lotteries, etc.? Just as a liquor store doesn’t “create” an alcoholic, neither does a casino or lottery cause gambling addiction; it does however provide the opportunity for a predetermined genetic tendency to develop addiction to become manifest.

How is the problem gambler addicted without ingesting something? It’s a misconception that substances are required to produce an addiction. Gambling produces alterations in mood and a need to reproduce behavior to achieve the positive benefits associated with the changes in mood. Just as with substance-induced addictions, tolerance develops, meaning in time it takes increasingly higher amounts of the behavior (gambling) to reach the desired effect. This leads to the same type of cravings and withdrawals seen in other addictions.

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How do I get help for problem gambling? There is a national helpline that is offered by the National Council on Problem Gambling. Call 800-522-4700 for concerns.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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