Compulsive Gambling is An Addiction

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On Sunday January 26th I was struck with a sense of Sadness after reading a letter to the editor titled “Casino doesn’t show flip side of coin”. The letter told a familiar story for Compulsive Gamblers in recovery like myself.  It is the story of reaching breaking points and losses that are far more important than the money lost.  Ms. Wade I know your pain and I know your Grandmother’s Pain.  Who am I you ask? My name is Bernie and I AM A COMPULSIVE GAMBLER.  I started my recovery on November 21, 2007 when, after going to a GA meeting, I came face to face with the truth.

It is hard to feel good about Casinos or any of the many ways gambling presents itself here in Michigan and across the country.  Most people in Michigan probably do not realize that we are one of only 3 states that have legalized all defined forms of Gambling, the other 2 are Iowa and Louisiana. How can anyone feel good about that? I am here to tell you that while I am not against gambling, I am disappointed that it is not treated like Alcoholism.  There is a need for treatment and assessment of people for this.

The State of Michigan has been planning to unleash gambling online and from I phones now to reach more people. This I have a problem with because while it may be a revenue stream for the Government it is not good for people who are already struggling to pay their bills.

Compulsive Gamblers do not show the same physical signs as other Addicts but they do show signs. When a person follows this path these changes may occur: less contact with people they know, trouble at work, a decrease of interest in other activities and increased borrowing.  Often a person will begin to show physical signs when the pressure of their losses gets to the point they can’t hide it anymore.  This addiction causes behavior changes that include building a fantasy around lies told to cover losses of time, money and property.

It is a silent addiction today because it is often not identified until one of three things happen.  The person is convicted of a crime and ends up in Jail, the person commits suicide because of how bad it has become, or as with me they end up in the hospital because of everything coming apart. 

Some excuses that people come up with are very believable on the surface but when it comes right down to it they are not entirely true.  The excuses are not just from the Gambler but also from those around them too.  Justifying gambling because you know “The next one’s a winner”, “I’m just having a little fun”, “He/she needs a little fun after all they do work hard” and not thinking about other activities that used to be fun is a path to trouble.

Now that Compulsive Gambling is identified as an addiction it is time to treat it as one.  There is evidence that, while no drug is ingested, the brain centers triggered by substance abuse respond identically for Compulsive Gamblers. At risk populations include the elderly, poor and Young adults. Many will start because of loneliness, boredom and/or Poor self-esteem.  Another thing to be aware of is if a person has had prior addictions.

Do you suspect you or someone you know has a problem?  Seek out help through support Groups, Counseling, and Reading up on it.  My book “How To Win As A High Roller While Losing Your Shirt” is a workbook of sorts to help you understand Compulsive Gambling. 

 Consider this thought: Do you go to a restaurant to Buy 1 French Fry and leave or are you going for the whole meal and the experience of the restaurant?  For Compulsive Gamblers it is the same thing. It is the WHOLE experience that they go for.

I can be reached to speak to your organization, do in-services, Seminars and more at www.Standtallrecoveryservices.com , (517) 980-0013 or by email at standtallrecoveryservice@hotmail.com.

How no is yes when answering The 20 Questions

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The 20 Questions of Gamblers Anonymous can be answered no by a compulsive gambler because of ‘compartmentalization’. Here is a taste of those possible ways to perceive events differently and why they are what they are.
1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
• If you nod off at work, daydream about going gambling or any number of other avoidance techniques at work this also would be lost time. A person may not attribute this to gambling but that is only compartmentalizing.
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
• Arguments or disagreements over work, money or any number of other things may not be directly attributed to gambling. It is just that.
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
• People hearing you talk about your ‘wins’, your family activities and any number of other activities are a part of your reputation.
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
• This can be as simple as thinking about needing gas or food. It does not have to present as ‘I can’t believe I did it again’. Remorse is not just feeling bad about what you did, it is also all the other thoughts you may not relate to the gambling.
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
• This seems pretty clear but what about realizing you have bills and borrowing from someone else. The gambling was in effect for paying bills.
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
• Any health or sleep problems are in effect decreases yet it can be explained away by a compulsive gambler as unrelated to the gambling.
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
• There are people who have a set pattern of going. While they may be looking forward to that return trip, they may rationalize that it is not for the reason of winning back losses.
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
• It is not considered returning if you are still there, however, if you do not walk away with that win you are in fact returning.
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
• If you have a savings account or money you did not bring with you it could be rationalized that you did not spend your last dollar.
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
• Ok. So you have spent everything you have and need to pay bills. You borrow to pay the bills and it is not for gambling, right. Wrong… The money borrowed is in fact to replace lost money. You borrowed from yourself and then borrowed from someone else to hide that fact.
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
• Same principle applies here as with question 10. If you sell something to get money for something else, it is money to replace gambling money.

12. Were you ever reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
• Putting money into a budget for gambling is this. It is also when you are doing what is noted in questions 10 and 11.
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
• A yes to any of the first 12 questions is a yes to this one.
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
• This one is self-explanatory, however also consider when you decide to stop gambling you have automatically acknowledged that you did not plan to have gone this far.
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
• When you are gambling are you thinking of anything else? If not then you are escaping.
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
• Here we go. If you considered it for paying bills or getting money for any other reason it is to support you’re gambling. Most other expenditures would not necessarily drive you to this so if you thought or acted on this it was for gambling.
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
• If you spend all night gambling it is causing you difficulty. If you nod off at other times it does. If you answered yes to 2 of the previous questions it is affecting sleep even if you do not recognize it.
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gambling?
• Why are you gambling if not to avoid life events that bother you? Again any of the above questions are cause for arguments, disappointments or frustrations.
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
• You might say it is for a different reason but what better way to celebrate than ‘having fun’!!
20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
• Everything tied to gambling too much is an act of Self-destruction. Gambling and other activities are forms of mental, financial and personal suicide.

Gambling: The Fantasy World

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When you start to plan for the future no one says “oh I’ll bury myself in debt” or “It would be fun to be broke”. I started gambling in high fashion when I started seeing a day when I would no longer have to worry about what my job was. I began to believe that I’ll win enough big bets to take care of everything. Over time the fantasy became a false reality for me.

It started at some point with a “few minutes” of scratch off tickets before I went home. How realistic is it to believe that I was going to hit the big win? Looking back on it I wish that lightning would have struck before November 2, 2007 but it did not happen that way. The fantasy of winning big is less likely than being hit by lightning, but most if not all gamblers begin with the Fantasy of beating the odds.

Once I started actively chasing the dream of a big win I was off to the races. Looking back I wish I had never entered the race. On November 16, 2007 I had won that race. I started to recover from the biggest most self-destructive problem in my life. Today I still fight for a recovery that is one day at a time and sometimes one minute at a time.

The “chase” is a fantasy world that deals with a selfish side of life. I felt guilty because of my own failures and ultimately this low self-image drew me deeper into the “chase”. Gambling was my escape from arguments and the feelings of inadequacy. I could play scratch offs and enter a dream world of being someone special. I could escape into the wood work for a short period. 20, 30 or 40 dollars or more later I’d head home knowing that my wife would be asleep and I felt I would get peace. To this day I fail to understand how my gambling comforted me yet I know it did until the very last bet.

My fantasy world came crashing down on November 2, 2007 and now I am trying to build my life on realities as best I can. I looked to gambling to provide solutions for problems ranging from self-esteem to companionship. My wife has told me that I had an affair with gambling and I cannot deny that. While I deluded myself by dreaming of giving my family security financially through gambling in the beginning yet at some point the “chase” became my best friend, my lover and a part of who I was.

The fantasy is over for me that I’ll provide for my family all they need through my lover – the scratch off ticket.