Letter to the Editor

When gambling becomes an obsession

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Eighty-eight percent of Iowans report gambling in the last year. For most Iowans a trip to the casino is considered a fun, leisure time activity. The same as if they eat dinner out, pay for a day of golfing, or go to a show. For these Iowans they decide how much of their "leisure" income they can afford to lose and once that amount is reached they quit. They don't go to the casino with the intent to win big. They know the odds are against them. Gambling for them is a few hours of entertainment and fun.

Not all gambling is done in a casino. Sports betting, betting on the outcome of different sports, is popular among sports enthusiasts. But for some people sports betting can become an obsession; where winning the next bet can mean paying rent or being homeless. Almost everyone has access to the Internet and the app store. Apps are games that are downloaded on a variety of mobile devices, including computers, tablets, and smart phone. While playing apps may seem harmless, there is often some type of risk involved. While it starts out as free, the game may encourage a small buy-in to continue to play or to earn extra features within the game. If I person is not careful, Internet gaming can become addictive; where a person isn't even aware of what they are spending until they see their debit or credit card bill.

HelpGuide.org (Jan. 2016) states: "Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a type of impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers can't control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. Gambling is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they're up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed. Even when they know the odds are against them, even when they can't afford to lose, people with a gambling addiction can't "stay off the bet." It is time for 1-800-BETS-OFF. The call is free and the caller will be provided resources to assist them.

Gambling addiction, which is estimated at three percent of the American population, is just as serious as addiction to drugs and alcohol. It can leave a person powerless and depressed. It can also cause a person to do things they never would do like steal money from family or friends or embezzle from their employer. But help is available and the sooner a gambling addict can receive help the less they will lose.

If someone you suspect is having a gambling problem, here are a few signs to look for:

* Preoccupied with gambling (i.e. reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)

* Secretive about his/her gambling habits, and defensive when confronted

* Increasing bet amounts when gambling in order to achieve the desired excitement ("high")

* Trying unsuccessfully to control, cut back or stop gambling

* Restless or irritable when not gambling

If you suspect you might have a gambling problem ask yourself these questions:

* Have you tried to stop, cut down or control your gambling?

* Have you lied to family members, friends or others about how much you gamble or how much money you are losing?

* Have there been periods lasting two weeks or longer when you spent a lot of time thinking about gambling experiences or planning your future ventures or bets?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may have a gambling problem. Please, get the help you need. Call 1-800-BETS-OFF.

Problem gamblers come from many backgrounds. They can be rich or poor, young or old, male or female. Problem gambling can affect people of every race, every religion, and every education and income level. It happens in small towns or big cities.

Be informed and know the risks. Remember: the more you play, the more you pay. And if you feel you or someone you know has a gambling problem, know help is available. Call the toll-free help line 866-322-1407.

March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Linda Hallengren

Prevention Consultant

Compass Pointe Behavioral Health Services