Avoiding Gambling Addiction

Meet Jack – A Married Man Keeping a $10,000 Secret from His Wife

Maybe you can relate to this story …in more ways than one.

Jack is a 38-year old married man with two kids and responsibilities. He handles the family finances, he works and takes his daughter to swim practice.

For most of his life gambling never crossed his mind. He bought a lottery ticket every once in a while, but that’s it.

He never expected to become another statistic …another person addicted to gambling.

Most addicts never do.

How Gambling Addiction Starts

Gambling addicts start off innocently enough. A pull of a slot machine here, a hand of blackjack there. You’re not an addict …yet.

Experts aren’t entirely sure why one person becomes an addict while another person doesn’t. In fact, for the longest time gambling addiction was considered a behavioral problem – something you could control.

But not anymore.

Today, experts treat gambling addiction like a sickness – as if you were addicted to drinking or doing drugs. They changed their minds because studies show that gambling affects your brain the same way alcohol and drugs do.

They give you a dopamine rush.

Dopamine comes from our brain’s reward system. Whenever we partake in an activity that interests us, neurons in our brain reward our system with dopamine – a chemical that leaves us feeling satisfied and happy.

(Some examples of dopamine triggering activities include checking our phones after they ding, video games, sex or winning at slots.)

The problem with these dopamine rushes is twofold:

1. We’re encouraged to make a habit out of whatever gives us a dopamine rush (for example, checking Facebook for likes and shares after posting that cute selfie).

2. Each rush leaves us feeling less satisfied, forcing us to do more of said activity to get that rush. You see this with drug addicts. After awhile one hit won’t get you high – you have to start taking two hits, then three and four, just to get the same effect that one hit used to get you.

This is what happened to Jack.

One day, while he waited for his daughter to finish her swim workout, he got the idea to check out a local video poker spot. His co-worker told him about it …and how he won $1,000.

Jack knew $1,000 wouldn’t change his life, but it would help him and his wife out with the bills. So, he headed over to check it out.

Funny thing – Jack was so new to gambling that he didn’t even know how to use the machine. Someone had to show him how. He also suggested that Jack increase his bet and to play for awhile to “warm the machine up.”

So, that’s what Jack did. By the time his daughter called, Jack was up $400 – and on cloud nine – thanks to a massive dopamine rush.

How Gambling Addicts Act

Each addict is unique, but there is a list of common traits they all share and/or display.

I’ll list those in a second. But first, let’s get back to Jack.

When his daughter called to see where he was at, Jack said something about running into a friend at the mall and that he’d be right over. A lie.

A couple weeks later Jack was at a hockey game with a couple friends. They all pitched in a few bucks to play the video poker machine – they quickly lost their money and left.

Except for Jack – he came back. Because, as he put it, he knew his friends were playing the machine wrong.

He played for 20 minutes – and wouldn’t you know it – he cashed out for another $600.

(Cue: Dopamine rush.)

A few weeks later he was at his brother’s house. Jack was feeling the urge to play again (that dopamine addiction at work), so he lied and said something about having to go home to help his son with his homework. He headed straight for the video poker machines, anticipating another payday.

But 5 hours and 5 ATM visits later, he was out $1,200 bucks.

Worse yet, his wife called his brother and found out Jack wasn’t there. When she asked her husband about it, Jack told her that he was at a going away lunch for a co-worker. His wife believed him.

(Side note: Notice how Jack lied not once, but twice in one day.)

The next outing Jack was on a mission to win back his losses. He left the house with the goal of leaving if he hit $500 or more.

But that didn’t happen.

He got up to $600, but decided to risk it all anyway. He finished his session losing that $600 plus another $1,000. After that he went home, grabbed his debit card and got a cash advance. He lost that, too.

By this point in Jack’s story he’s out $10,000. His wife suspects nothing – she’s even talking about taking a family vacation. But Jack knows the truth – the family is broke and it’s all his fault.

That’s the end of Jack’s story. Were there any traits that stood out to you?

Here are a couple that stood out to me:

  • Jack lied …several times.
  • He was secretive, not only about his gambling, but also about where he goes when he leaves the house.
  • Jack spent all his family’s money.

Those are some of the biggies. Here are some of the other traits that problem gamblers share:

  • Obsessing over any type of gambling.
  • Avoiding work or other commitments in order to gamble.
  • Neglecting bills and expenses in order to use the money for gambling.
  • Disintegrating relationships or friendships.
  • Losing house, job, car, or other personal possessions.
  • Stealing money.
  • Selling possessions in order to gamble
  • Gambling to feel better about life
  • Failing to control the gambling
  • Feeling guilty after a gambling session
  • Taking bigger and bigger risks
  • You’re defensive about gambling
  • People are worried about you
  • You gamble even if you don’t have the money

If any of these apply to you – or someone you know – be prepared for the consequences.

Addiction Can Tear Your Life Apart

Imagine all the worst things that could happen to you:

  • Lose your job.
  • Lose your spouse.
  • Lose your kids, family and friends.
  • Lose control of your life.
  • Lose your freedom (aka you go to jail).

Each – and often all – of these happen to gambling addicts.

In fact, it reminds me of another addict story I read.

One guy’s addiction got so bad that he went to the bank for a loan so he could play and earn enough money to repay a debt he owed.

The only way to get a loan was to refinance the house. But both he and his wife needed to sign the paperwork. So, he asked the bank if he could take the papers home to his wife because she was “sick.”

They said sure – and so he forged her signature in the parking lot.

But …apparently he missed one of the pages, and the bank called his wife asking about it.

At first his wife was confused, then she quickly figured out there was a problem. She came back into the dining room, took one look at her husband and said, you get help or we’re through.

Families falling apart is only one consequence (of many) gambling addicts face.

Suicide is another.

Statistics show that one in five pathological gamblers commit suicide (higher than any other disorder). Another study shows that 17% of suicidal patients admitted to Alfred’s Hospital (in Australia) were problem gamblers.

So, if you – or someone you know – have a gambling problem, it’s important that you reach out for help. There is no shortage of options at your disposal, either.

Here are some of the places you can go for help:

The National Council on Problem Gambling Helpline – Offers a confidential, 24-hour helpline for problem gamblers or their family members in the U.S.

Gamblers Anonymous – Twelve-step Gamblers Anonymous program with an international support network of meetings to assist people with gambling problems.

Gamcare – Offers support, information, and advice for those with a gambling problem in the UK.

Gambling Help Online – Provides 24-hour helpline in Australia for counseling, information, and referrals.

Canadian Resources for Those Affected by Problem Gambling – Find help and information on problem gambling in your area of Canada.

Sources

http://getgamblingfacts.ca/personal-stories/my-gambling-slide/

http://getgamblingfacts.ca/personal-stories/

http://www.aproundtable.org/gamblingsruinedlives/stories.html

http://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/gambling#Overview1

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/gambling-addiction-and-problem-gambling.htm

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-brain-gets-addicted-to-gambling/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_gambling

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