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What is compulsive gambling?

The explanation that seems most acceptable to Gamblers Anonymous  ( Gamblers Anonymous: A 12 step recovery program, based on Alcoholics Anonymous) www.gamblersanonymous.org   is: compulsive gambling is an illness, progressive in its nature, which can never be cured, but can be arrested.
Before coming to Gamblers Anonymous, many compulsive gamblers thought of themselves as morally weak, or at times just plain 'no good'. The Gamblers Anonymous concept is that compulsive gamblers are really very sick people who can recover if they will follow to the best of their ability a simple program that has proved successful for thousands of other men and women with a gambling or compulsive gambling problem. (Gamblers Anonymous   www.gamblersanonymous.org )

Gam-anon : Support for spouse, partner, family and close friends of compulsive gamblers  www.gam-anon.org

The self-help organization of Gam-Anon is a life saving instrument for the spouse, family or close friends of compulsive gamblers. We come into the group feeling alone, frightened, helpless, desperate and ashamed. We hesitated to share problems and failures, fearing none could understand. The Gam-Anon group is warmly accepting and it offers the new member identification. The message we receive is: "Come join with us, we too were alone, afraid and unable to cope with the problem; we will share with you a new and fulfilling way of life". Gam-Anon's purposes are three-fold: To learn acceptance and understanding of the gambling illness; to use the program and its problem solving suggestions as aids in rebuilding our lives and, upon our own recovery, to give assistance to those who suffer.

In Gam-Anon the member will experience relief from anxiety by accepting the fact of powerlessness over the problem in the family. The heavy load of responsibility for the gambling problem is lifted and the agonizing guilt in regard to failures is gradually alleviated. The energy wasted in attempts to stop loved ones from gambling can be channeled into more useful methods of problem solving.

The program suggests that we refuse to be responsible for the gambler's behavior, assuming responsibility only for that which is ours. The prevailing idea is, "The gambler will play as long as someone else will pay."

In Gam-Anon we learn the appropriate way of relating to the gambler as an equal rather than as a "mother." This involves the process known as "letting go" or giving up the control. To be an adult is to give warmth and love in an equal role with the gambler.

It is important to recovery that the member see compulsive gambling in its true light, as an emotional illness. At this point, we will understand that obsessive compulsive behavior, acting out and game playing are symptoms of a serious illness. Although we may have been a pawn in game playing, our hurt was a side effect of this illness, not deliberately intended. After years of accumulated hurtful experiences it will be difficult for us to give up anger and resentment. The recovery program of Gam-Anon offers help in working through and in resolving these feelings.

If the gambler and member seek help jointly the recovery process will be enhanced. But even then, there is much for us to learn. We will need to be aware that the gambler's recovery cannot be hurried. It is important that we encourage the gambler, but we must refrain from pushing. Our expectations of the gamblers should be limited to their ability to respond. Although it proves to be their Waterloo, gambling is their "first love", to give it up will be a tremendous undertaking. They may at times be irritable, unreasonable and difficult to understand. It will be necessary that the gambler expend time and effort in the struggle to stop gambling. This may include many nights away from families as the gamblers attend group meetings according to their needs. Our understanding is required and it should be explained to the children because they, too, will need to understand.

The members who come to Gam-Anon and remain to find help for themselves regardless of the gamblers' refusal to respond, are greatly to be admired. Their role is one of extreme difficulty. The gamblers may resent Gam-Anon attendance and may see it as an attempt to interfere with their lives. Hopefully the gambler will be motivated to seek help, but recovery should not depend upon the gambler.

Young people who become addicted may suffer the same character changes and consequences that mark older compulsive gamblers. Some become deceitful and resort to stealing money; some obtain money under false pretenses from family and friends; some may withdraw from family life, developing an obstinate sullenness; and some may isolate from close friends only to befriend new acquaintances who share their "new interests." The lives of family members are affected and disrupted by these changes in behavior. Distraught parents may disagree as to how to deal with these financial and emotional problems.

As the gambling escalates, so does the indebtedness. Desperate gamblers often need increasing amounts of money to finance their addiction. Some parents have mortgaged their homes or sacrificed their life savings to rescue their child. Unfortunately, any financial rescue enables the gambler to continue gambling and eliminates the motivation to change.

More and more parents of gamblers come to Gam-Anon to understand the problem and help their child. Members support and help each other by sharing their experiences, wisdom and strength. At weekly meetings, parents educate themselves and learn new and appropriate methods of dealing with the gambler. In the process, they learn a better way of life for themselves.

Compulsive gambling is the obvious symptom of an emotional disorder. The emotional factors involved are: inability or unwillingness to accept reality, emotional insecurity, basic immaturity, and lack of self-esteem. The gambler finds that he or she is most comfortable when gambling. Many psychiatrists feel that the gambler has an underlying need for self-destruction.

Compulsive gambling brings despair and humiliation into the lives of countless thousands of men, women and children. The compulsive gambler is a person who is dominated by an irresistible urge to gamble. Coupled with this is the obsessive idea that a way will be found not only to control the gambling, but to "make it pay" and enjoy it besides. This disease causes deterioration in almost all areas of the person's life.

The compulsive gambler attempts to create an image as a philanthropist and an all around "good fellow". Much of the time the gambler lives in a dream world which satisfies his or her emotional needs. The gambler dreams of a life filled with friends, new cars, furs, penthouses, yachts, etc. Pathetically there seems never to be big enough winnings to make even the smallest dream come true; probably because whatever monies won are, to the gambler, sacred. He or she must always return to win more; no amount is sufficient. Ultimately the gambler gambles in reckless desperation and his or her dream world brings no relief. The gambler destroys himself or herself and everyone the gambler touches. When the compulsive gambler reaches the point where he or she is willing to admit to having a problem and has a desire to stop gambling, the gambler will find help through Gamblers Anonymous.

To contact Gamblers Anonymous write to:

Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ: www.800gambler.org   
Ask yourself the following 20 questions if you are concerned about your own gambling: Visit link from 800Gambler:  http://www.800gambler.org/20Questions.aspx

Books on Gambling:
BEHIND the 8-BALL: A Recovery Guide for the Families of Gamblers by Linda Berman and Mary-Ellen Siegal
She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction by Mary Sojourner
Taking Back Your Life: Women and Problem Gambling by Diane Ray Davis

National Gambling Hotline: 1-800-522-4700  (24 hour, Confidential Hotline)
National Council on Problem Gambling: www.ncpgambling.org 

(973) 985-4503