Problem Gambling: Symptoms and Solutions

If you say the word “gambling” here in the Mahoning Valley, many folks’ thoughts will first turn to slot machines, roulette tables and horse racing. Of course, that’s only one way to gamble. With the recent conclusion of “March Madness,” others may picture brackets and how they did in their office pool. Then there are poker games with your buddies, bar games (darts, etc.) and even the Lottery.

Gambling can be undertaken in any number of ways. But for most of us, it’s a form of recreation — a fun night out (or maybe in) with your friends. Responsible gamblers dedicate a certain fixed amount of money with the expectation that, while it would be great to come out ahead, more likely than not they’ll lose. The money you spend on gambling is, in effect, the price you’re paying for the fun.

That’s actually a healthy way of looking at gambling. Unfortunately, for some individuals gambling has ceased to be fun and has become something very unhealthy in their lives. If out of control, it can cause financial troubles, family turmoil, and psychological and even physiological stress.

This is known as Problem Gambling, which was the topic of the March Now You Know series, presented by Meridian HealthCare and the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County. The speaker was Lynn Burkey, a National Certified Gambling Counselor for Meridian, and his presentation coincided with National Problem Gambling Month.

As Lynn pointed out, problem gambling can afflict people of all ages and income levels. Sports betting often begins among high school students, as do weekend poker games. Some individuals and families are prone to gambling excessively on the lottery or illegal games of chance. The elderly may find that bingo or trips to the casino consume a good portion of their recreational time and budget.

How do you know that a family member or friend may have a gambling problem? Here are some warning signs to look out for. He or she may:

  • experience financial troubles as a result of gambling
  • be secretive or lie about gambling to family and friends
  • borrow money to gamble
  • chase losses, and place larger or more frequent bets
  • be restless and irritable when attempting to stop or cut down on gambling

Like most addictions, those afflicted with problem gambling must want to make a change in their lives, and be willing to take the steps that will effect that change. As a friend or family member, you can help by encouraging honesty on the part of that person, and helping him or her to seek counseling. As problem gambling affects not only the gambler, but his or her family, counseling works best when the entire family is involved.

Some specific steps that can be taken are examining the gambler’s credit report, seeking a financial advisor or budget planning, and coming up with a “doable” plan for restitution to creditors and family.

Meridian HealthCare has a dedicated Problem Gambling program that is funded by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and the Ohio Lottery Commission. This program features pre-screening and consultations; assessment; individual, group and family counseling; and a continuing support group to help keep gambling problems from recurring.

There are additional resources in the community that can help problem gamblers. The local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous (213-386-8789) holds several meetings each week in a variety of area locations, and also operates Gam-Anon for family members. Additional help is available by dialing 211 or contacting the Ohio Problem Gambling Help Line at 800-589-9966.