Problem Gambling and Denial

By BRIGID BRETT — For the North County Times | Posted: March 19, 2010 12:01 am |

When “Tom” first started going to the casinos and playing blackjack, it wasn’t a problem. It was just a way of having fun, relieving a little stress, being social. And it made him feel important, especially when things weren’t going well at work or at home.

I was introduced to Tom through Dr. Suzanne Pike of the San Diego Center for Pathological Gambling. Pike, a licensed clinical psychologist and licensed certified gambling counselor, has been treating Tom for his gambling addiction.

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He found his way to her after going through all the phases that lead to becoming a pathological gambler: he’d denied he had a problem, lied to his family about his gambling, used gambling to numb his bad feelings and needed to keep gambling with more and more money to get the same adrenaline rush. He lost everything —- his job, his money, his marriage, his relationship with his kids. Eventually he became suicidal.

“I’d gamble for 20, 30, 40 hours at a stretch. Today’s my lucky day, I’d say.

“Just one more time,” Tom told me. “I always made sure I had enough gas to drive home before I went to the casino —- I didn’t know if I’d have enough after.”

The problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as someone else might get from taking a tranquilizer or having a drink. But just as a tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before. This creates an increased craving for the activity and the gambler finds they have less and less ability to resist as the craving grows in intensity and frequency, according to the UCLA Gambling Studies Program.

“Often it’s not the gambler who reaches out to us, but someone in their family,” says Pike. “They call because they know there’s a problem but their family member is in denial.” There is no “typical” problem gambler, says Pike, but she’s seeing more middle-aged and elderly women and many are Asian.

When it comes to the affects of gambling, we are a nation in denial.

California loses $1 billion to gambling annually, in lost productivity, crime, bankruptcies, emotional and physical suffering and substance use disorders, according to the UGSP.

Although 4 to 6 million adults meet the criteria for a gambling disorder, not a cent of the $3.55 trillion federal budget is dedicated to problem gambling, says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gaming. And not a single person in the entire federal government has problem gaming in their job description.

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