One of the most common phrases out there–what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas–is not completely accurate. In fact, as I learned the other day, for many it does not apply at all. We all are very aware of the problems that can stem from alcohol and drug abuse, but problem gambling is not talked about as much, yet it can be just as serious.
Recently, to create awareness for problem gambling, NYIT brought an addiction recovery specialist (Melissa Wayne) in to speak with students about how dangerous gambling really can become, and I was shocked to hear how life-threatening the seemingly “fun” activity can be if and when it gets out of hand. Of course many are aware that gambling can become addictive, and especially when money is involved, can quickly become a huge problem. But Wayne shared a lot of interesting yet disheartening facts with us that really opened my mind further to how serious problem gambling really is, and facts that I was unable to cover in my report that people still should be aware of.
First, most of us think nothing of buying a lotto scratch off card. But in reality, we have a much greater chance of drowning in a bathtub, of our tv catching on fire, or of being injured by a chainsaw than winning the Mega Million, Lotto Jackpot, or Win for Life. Yet still people put so much money into these cards. The same applies to slots and other games. But the chances of us winning? Way less than one in a million. So much of it is mindless and its so easy to put money down quickly, which is perhaps why people can get so easily addicted.
Gambling is all around us–there are scratch off machines, casinos, bingo and poker games and sport pools all around us. And now with the internet, absolutely anyone, even a five-year old, can gamble. And as Wayne says, gambling is completely socially acceptable, and we rarely hear about its dangers. We hear about drunk driving, overdosing, and so much related to substance abuse, but as Wayne pointed out, how often is there a PSA about the dangers of gambling? And she continued to prove further that it is quickly become another drug of choice. Unfortunately, a lot of people, at least in my opinion, aren’t fully aware of how much of a drug it really is. And it is perhaps because, unlike other addictions, gambling addiction can be hidden.
Wayne defined pathological gambling as an addiction to gambling with characteristics very similar to that of addiction to alcohol or other drugs. When someone becomes a problem gambler (as opposed to those who really do just gamble for fun and know when to stop), they put themselves at great risk. When someone becomes addicted, gambling becomes their only friend–it can severely ruin other relationships, job or educational opportunities. As I noted in my package about gambling awareness, one in five gamblers attempt suicide, according to the NY Council on Problem Gambling. They can develop lower self-esteem, higher rates of depressions, poor coping skills, and a need to take great risks. And when they stop, they can go through withdrawal just like substance abusers. And of course, Wayne noted that many gambling addicts will do anything to get the money they need. She spoke of a college boy, who had everything going for him–president of his sophomore class, a cellist in the orchestra, an employee in the school chaplain’s office–until he robbed a bank. He was a problem gambler. Unfortunately, gambling addicts often believe that gambling is not really a game of chance, that they can figure out how to win, and will always try to get even if they lose, which of course feeds the addiction.
Interestingly, 72% of students in grades 7-12 engaged in at least one gambling activity in the past year, and most students have tried gambling by the time they get to college. Children often don’t make their own money, which for them makes this addiction even more dangerous. Who knows where or what someone could do for the money when they don’t make any. Wayne really highlighted how dangerous gambling can be, and how our culture really does not do enough to ensure that people are aware of its dangers. She was not anti-gambling by any means, but she stressed, that it can be just as serious as any other substance abuse. Gambling is not just a game. It can become an illness.
If you feel someone you know may have a problem, Wayne says to look for changes in behavior/personality, their financial situation (like borrowing/stealing money or using earmarked money for gambling purposes), withdrawal from family and friends, absences from events/school, an intense interest in anything related to gambling, or if they’re becoming forgetful. And as I mentioned in my package, The New York State Gambling Addiction Hotline’s number is 1-877-8-HOPENY.