Feeling Lucky? When Gambling Becomes Pathological

My dad liked to gamble at the card rooms in Gardena, CA. He won our first horse gambling. It was just before Christmas and we three children were beyond elated. He won our second horse also. Was gambling a problem for him? There were fights about money between my parents. Did bills go unpaid? Did we do without in other ways? I don't remember. And, I'm glad to say none of us three children developed a gambling issue. (Plenty of other challenges, but not that one).  I'm at Lake Tahoe right now and I invested $20.00 in a slot machine and that's it for me.

When does the enjoyment of recreational gambling turn into pathological gambling? First of all, how much of a problem is gambling in America? Research shows about 5% of the population have gambling problems at some point in their lives (Klontz & Klontz, Mind Over Money) and up to 2% become pathological gamblers. These are the ones who end up with serious consequences like my husband's grandfather, who bet everything he owned and lost.

Gambling sits on a continuum. From the thrill of taking a risk to gambling for occasional pleasure to serious issues - think about where you'd place yourself on this continuum. Pathological gambling, like any serious addiction, is when someone has lost control of their behavior and repeats the harmful behavior (whether making a bet, taking a drink, overeating) even when there are serious financial, health or relationship issues. This is why addiction is considered an illness and needs to be treated as such.

The start of pathological gambling is often the first thrill of winning, the adrenalin rush, that provides a feeling of power and may convince the gambler they can beat the system. And, most importantly, this rush serves to cover up or distract from feelings of anxiety, or to act as a distraction to dealing with life's problems. The rush of the possibility of winning, the desire to be successful, to beat the system and the occasional WIN get powerfully hardwired in the brain together. "What fires together, wires together." (Rick Hanson, Buddha's Brain)

If you're having a problem with gambling, or know someone who is check out Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org) or google G.A. meetings in your community. Research shows that trauma treatment is often very helpful and therapies such as EMDR (or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) are very effective trauma treatments. I would recommend a trained EMDR therapist who has a good understanding of addiction.