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NPGAW

March 3-9 marks National Problem Gambling Week.

The goal of this campaign is to educate the general public, and health care professionals about the warning signs of problem gambling and raise awareness about the help that is available both locally and nationally.

Research finds that up to 3% of the US population will have a gambling problem. That equals 9 million Americans, yet only a small fraction seek out services, like treatment and self-help recovery programs.

Those with a gambling addiction are tough to identify and uniquely different from substance abuse addictions.  Gambling is connected to a fantasy.  Gamblers can also appear fully functional until they hit rock bottom.  There is no way to measure gambling in a scientific manner like urine, blood, or hair samples.  Gamblers tend to act alone or in secret from loved ones.  Another difficulty in finding those with the problem is that there is no saturation point for gambling.  Even professional can miss the signs until the final stages of loss and destruction.

These are critical discussion points because gamblers quickly turn to suicide.  If a problem gambler is isolating himself or herself, hiding financial losses, and lying about the issue, then family and friends may not even be aware of the problem until the person attempts suicide.

These tragic events are growing in our military communities and with veterans who have returned from war.  Recent studies show that 1 in 10 veterans have a problem or pathological gambling addiction.  And when you look at military suicide rates, financial problems are the second leading cause of suicide.  Veterans are another unique population because of service-related issues like combat stress reactions, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.  Gambling may not be the entire cause for suicide in the military, but it is one piece of the puzzle that we can address as a caring community.

No matter where you live, there is hope for those who suffer from gambling problems.  Encourage people to reach out for help.  Resources are available in every community.  Find a local or national resource to help problem gamblers.  Counselors are only one call or click away from saving a life.

You can find counselors and additional resources at:

National Problem Gambling Helpline 1-800-522-4700

Gamblers Anonymous www.gamblersanonymous.org

Military One Source 1-800-342-9647

Focus on the Family / faith-based counseling:  1-855-771-HELP (4357).

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Gambling is a problem in America.  But gambling addiction issues with veterans are twice as high.

The Veterans Administration funded a study to determine the prevalence of problems and pathological gambling addictions within the U.S. military.  The findings deserve our attention:

  • One in 10 veterans have a problem or pathological gambling addiction (2 percent pathological addictions and 8 percent problem addictions to gambling)
  • Unemployment plays a major role in whether the veteran had gambling addictions, and married veterans were more likely to have gambling addictions (not what psychologists and researchers expected to see)
  • Veterans have about twice the rate of problems/pathological gambling addictions compared to the general, non-military population
  • Both male and female veterans have almost identical problem and pathological gambling addiction rates (again, this is unusual – not what psychologists and researchers expected to see)
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety tend to have more gambling addiction problems
  • Younger veterans (20s) were more likely to be diagnosed as pathological gamblers (from previous data, most veterans with pathological gambling addictions are 35 and older, so this change in age for addiction was unexpected)

Veterans are immediately submitted to unhealthy methods of emotional escape when they return from combat.  There is a strong temptation to find unhealthy coping mechanisms because you are trying to develop a new normal at home or deal with combat stress reactions.  Many WWII veterans turned to alcohol, isolated themselves from family, and became workaholics when they returned from combat.  While this was a way to cope with problems, it was not the best way.

Gambling easily lends itself to a destructive path.  In short order, people quickly become compulsive gamblers, grow financially unstable, throw away friends and family, end marriages, abandon children, risk loosing a security clearance, jeopardize his/her military career, and even contemplate suicide.

Know the signs that point to a gambling addiction.  If you have a battle buddy or know a veteran who needs help, don’t wait.  Tell him/her what you see.  Encourage that person to get help.  State agencies and military posts offer free gambling addiction resources.  It is important that we act quickly when someone is at risk.  The loss of family and financial security may be enough for someone to consider suicide.  Your actions can help to save a life.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has a 24/7 confidential hotline:  1-800-522-4700.

Gamblers Anonymous offers a link with state hotlines at http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/hotlines

Military One Source offers free and confidential counseling for service members and military family members:  1-800-342-9647.

Focus on the Family offers faith-based counseling:  1-855-771-HELP (4357).

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