Substance Abuse Prevention Month Highlights Similarities and Differences with Disordered Gambling

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Substance Abuse Prevention Month Highlights Similarities and Differences with Disordered Gambling

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, and it is often easiest to understand problem gambling by comparing it to alcoholism and drug addiction. While the similarities are many, there are some important differences that have made compulsive gambling more difficult to identify and to treat.   For starters, a gambling disorder is a hidden addiction, so it’s difficult to detect because there are no visible outward physical symptoms, such as dilated pupils.  In addition, 100% abstinence is very challenging because money is the “drug” that fuels the addiction. Gambling requires no ingestion of chemicals, yet persons engaging in the activity frequently experience the same physiological “highs”. It is also true that a gambling disorder cannot be assessed through a blood or urine analysis, so evaluation by a trained professional is important.

It is further essential to recognize that disordered gambling is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a nonsubstance-related addiction.  Yet, it is not widely understood nor has there been the amount of public awareness devoted to the topic as has been the case with substance abuse prevention education, and outreach.  As a result, gambling addiction carries a stigma that often precludes suffering persons from seeking help, treatment, and recovery. At times, such stigmatizations originate from judgments people make based upon stereotypes, prejudices, misperceptions, religious beliefs, or other reasons. It is also true that those inflicted with the disorder can self-impose biases in response to shame, embarrassment, and stigma. The important point is that regardless of which direction the stigma generates, stigmas discourage people from seeking the necessary supports.  Gambling addiction is not widely viewed as a disorder, so resources are limited.

Another important distinction is there is no “saturation point” with gamblers, as there is with alcohol and drugs, in that a person can only consume so much prior to the body shutting down.  This is not the case with gambling so the activity will continue until the money or credit runs out, which frequently results in significant financial impacts.

It is also not uncommon for those at-risk or are already problem gamblers to suffer from drug or alcohol difficulties, given the high rate of co-morbidity within this population.  They may also substitute one addiction for another, such as stopping drinking only to start gambling more or vice versa. Several studies indicate that approximately 50% of the problem gambling population has or have had drug or alcohol problems.  And per contacts to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling’s 888-ADMIT-IT, more than 25% of problem gamblers originated from families with alcohol and substance abuse.

Some Risk Factors for a Gambling Problem Include:
Individuals suffering from mental health issues
Older adults, given the loss of loved ones, onset of retirement, and living on fixed incomes
Persons with a history of abuse or trauma in search of an escape
Cultural factors and upbringing, given exposure to gambling as a child
Genetic factors – family history increases risk
Alcohol or drug abuse because it impairs judgment
Injury since often pending on the game of choice, persons with various disabilities can partake
Minorities, given access to gambling in urban locations
Lower income patrons because they often do not have disposable income
Youth, given technology changes, availability of gambling online, and easy access

If you or someone you care about needs assistance for a gambling problem, call the FCCG’s 24-hour Confidential and Multilingual Problem Gambling HelpLine at 888-ADMIT-IT (888-236-4848), by text (321-978-0555), email (fccg@gamblinghelp.org), live chat (gamblinghelp.org), via the 888-ADMIT-IT App (https://landing.appypie.com/888-admit-it), or on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.


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