All Bets Are Off!

By Anna Sachse

Posted October 8, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

I went to Vegas once when I was 21 and very poor, and played nickel slots. I started with $20 and somehow, about 30 minutes later, I had $2,000. Problem was, my streak was so exciting that I continued playing, and then I started losing. And losing. And losing. Until eventually I had nothing. Even though I’d really only “lost” my original $20, I felt sick. So I put my credit card in the machine and quickly blew through another $80, for a grand total of $100 lost. It was stupid, but I learned my lesson—now, when I very occasionally gamble for fun, I never risk more than the small amount I’ve predetermined that I am able to lose.


That said, the euphoric highs and desperate lows I experienced during my little winning streak long ago gave me a glimpse at what it’s like to be a gambling addict. 


Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is essentially an impulse-control disorder that inevitably creates problems at work and home, ruins relationships and can lead to financial catastrophe. Compulsive gamblers can’t control the impulse to gamble, no matter whether they’re losing or winning, depressed or happy, rich or broke, hurting themselves or hurting people they love. Beyond failing to pay their bills, compulsive gamblers might even steal from their workplace, secretly plow through their children’s savings or sell important objects, such as a wedding ring.


However, you could be a compulsive gambler even if your habit isn’t totally out of control—yet. For instance, some problem gamblers are prone to binges rather than an everyday obsession, but usually the time in between is characterized by a tendency to be nervous, irritable, frustrated and indecisive.


So, maybe your ideal Saturday night is spending hours at the blackjack tables at Morongo, or maybe you like to unwind playing online poker late at night. How do you know if you have a problem? 


First of all, “gambling” is defined as any betting or wagering, for yourself or others, whether for money or not, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance. In general, common signs you might be an addict include: you’re secretive or lie about your gambling; you are unable to stop, even when you’re broke; and your family, friends or coworkers have expressed concern. 


But, according to Gamblers Anonymous, the reality is that you have to decide for yourself if you are a compulsive gambler. The only way to get better is to fully concede that you have a progressive illness and decide that you truly wish to stop gambling and get well. 


The second step is to accept that you can never gamble again. “The idea that somehow, some day, we will control our gambling is the great obsession of every compulsive gambler,” says Gamblers Anonymous. “Many pursue it into the gates of prison, insanity or death.” Try to think of it as an alcoholic saying they can have just one drink.


The third step is to get help, either therapy or a support group. Gamblers Anonymous is a well-established 12-step recovery program where you can learn the tools you need to stay “sober” in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Remember that gambling addiction is an illness, not just weakness or poor character.


And, finally, surround yourself with people to whom you’re accountable, avoid tempting environments, temporarily give up control of your finances if need be and come up with a list of other activities you enjoy or that can distract you from gambling. Sure, cleaning your house may not sound as fun as gambling, but it’s a hell of a lot better than losing your house to Keno-induced foreclosure.


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