Gambling has many of the same symptoms as other addictions, including the urge to continue the behavior despite negative consequences, but it’s different in one key way.
“With problem gambling, sometimes people see the problem as the solution,” said Sheila Moran, director of marketing for the helpline 1-800-Gambler.
“What I mean by that is, if you’re an alcoholic you’re probably not going to think ‘if I drink another beer this could solve my alcohol problem,’” she said. “However, with problem gambling, people often think ‘if I go just one more time to the casino, and I gamble more, then I’ll win back enough money to pay off my debts and I’ll be good again.’ Course it doesn’t usually work that way.”
Moran said this logic can be particularly painful around the holidays. She gave the example of one lady who took her grandchildren’s presents, rewrapped the empty boxes, sold the presents and then lost the money, which left her with no money for bills or repurchasing the gifts. It’s not an uncommon story.
“The holidays were always stressful,” said Marshal Verzich. Verzich is recovering from both alcoholism and problem gambling. He said things were particularly tough when he had small children because coming up with the money for presents was always a challenge.
“So I’d always more or less plan on gambling heavier in the holidays. Because win, lose or draw it’s a gamble anyway to start with,” he said. “But when I would go, my main goal was to win money for Christmas, and in the process I ended up losing money for Christmas and my bill money and anything else I came in contact with.”
Nationwide, disordered gambling affects just over 2 percent of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic. In April, the personal finance website WalletHub published a state-by-state analysis of America’s “most gambling addicted states.” West Virginia ranked 6th.
Moran said there is such a thing as responsible gambling – in the same way that there is such a thing as responsible drinking. But she also cautioned that being responsible means leaving gambling to the adults. The early onset age of gambling is a known risk factor in developing gambling problems later in life. Data also suggests that starting gambling at an an early age makes young adults more likely to report substance problems than people who started gambling later.
“What we find a lot is that is that folks tend to want to buy things like poker sets or lottery tickets for children because they think that they’re innocent, but they don’t understand that these are not products designed for children,” said Moran. “For instance, you wouldn’t give a child a cigarette or a beer, but people sometimes think nothing of sticking some lottery tickets in a stocking.”
Moran said if you do gamble this holiday season, don’t expect to win. Rather, whatever money you put into the venture is the price of entertainment. When gambling ceases to be “just for fun” and is seen as necessary part of your income, that’s when to be concerned.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.