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What is gambling?

Gambling can be defined as betting something of value when the outcome is uncertain.  Gambling occurs in many forms, most commonly are: lotteries, casinos (slot machines, table games), bookmaking (sports books and horse books), card rooms, bingo, and pari-mutuels (horse and dog tracks, off-track-betting, Jai Alai).  Pathological or Compulsive Gambling is identified as an impulse control disorder and has features similar to other addictive disorders, without involving the use of an intoxicating drug.

What are the warning signs of pathological gambling?

Gamblers' Anonymous asks its new members twenty questions:

Did you ever lose time from work due to gambling?

Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

Did gambling affect your reputation?

Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

Did you ever gamble to get money in which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?

Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?

After losing, did you feel you must return as soon as possible to win back your losses?

After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?

Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

Have you ever sold anything to finance your gambling?

Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?

Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself and your family?

Did you ever gamble longer than you planned?

Have you ever gambled to escape worry our trouble?

Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance gambling?

Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?

Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?

Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?

Have you ever considered self-destruction as a result of your gambling?

Pathological gamblers usually answer yes to at least 7 of these questions.

What are the effects of pathological gambling?

Pathological gambling affects the gambler, their family, their employer, and the community.  As the gambler goes through the phases of their addiction, they spend less time with their family, spend more of the family's money on gambling until the bank accounts are depleted, and then may steal money from family members.  At work, the pathological gambler misuses time in order to gamble, has difficulty concentrating and finishing projects, may show abnormal mood swings, and may engage in embezzlement, employee theft, or other illegal activities.  The gambler, in desperation, may experience hopelessness, suicide thoughts and attempts, arrests, divorce, alcohol and/or other drug abuse, or an emotional breakdown.

Teen Gambling

Research suggests that children of compulsive gamblers are prone to suffer abuse or neglect and have higher rates of pathological gambling themselves.  One study found that 53% of students surveyed had gambled in the last year and 7% reported significant gambling problems.  Unlike drugs or alcohol, teenagers can hide a problem with gambling because there are no physical indications of "use".  Teenagers are often exposed to gambling at a very young age and introduced to gambling at home through card games or lotteries their family members play.  Similar to chemical use, teenagers enjoy the "high" or the thrill of gambling, which can quickly develop into an addiction.  Teens with a gambling problem will have the same warning signs but will often show negative effects in areas of home (i.e. arguments) or school (i.e. poor grades, change of friends).  Other warning signs include unexplained amounts of money, philanthropic behavior, missing items of value, or carrying around dice or cards.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor with specific training in the treatment of Pathological Gambling can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.  For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome.

If you are concerned about your gambling behaviors, please take the South Oaks Gambling Screen and the 20 Questions.

Sources:  National Council on Problem Gambling, American Psychiatric Association, National Institutes of Heath