Thomas Greenfield, M.REd., M.Ed., LPC, LADC
Gambling in Oklahoma is a widespread pastime. It’s a money-making machine designed to promote prosperity and fortune. Seen by many as a form of recreation, gambling has become a lucrative industry that employs and attracts millions in Oklahoma. What could be the problem?
Problem gambling is the growing concern. According to recent statistics provided by the National Council on Problem Gambling Inc (www.ncpgambling.org), 1-3% of the 35 million Oklahoma residents are pathological in their gambling. That equates to 35,000-105,000 Oklahomans who have a gambling problem. An additional 2-3% of all Oklahomans, 70,000-105,000 citizens, have significant personal and financial problems caused by gambling. Furthermore, the opportunity for gambling continues to increase. In 2010, it was reported more than 64,000 gaming machines filled over 111 gambling facilities.
What makes gambling a problem? It’s a form of recreation, right? After all, many people believe that investing in the stock market is as much a gamble as anything, if not more. Problem gambling is a pattern of gambling behavior which interrupts a stable and healthy lifestyle. According the psychological diagnostic tool known as the DSM-IV TR, “problem gambling is the persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family or vocational pursuits.” Problem gambling can lead to financial destruction, illegal activities, employment problems, loss of family or even suicide.
If anyone believes problem gambling is precipitated by financial problems, think again. Problem gambling is an addiction which stimulates the same parts of the brain as drugs and alcohol. It’s more an emotional problem than financial. In most cases, even when a gambler pays off all financial gambling debts, gambling will continue. It’s an uncontrollable obsession perpetuated by the brain’s insatiable desire for serotonin and dopamine, the brain chemicals which help a person feel good.
Gambling is not about the money. The colorful flashing lights, ringing bells, blowing whistles and occasional payouts are all carefully orchestrated to generate excitement that leads the gambler to continue gambling. In too many cases, the gambler actually loses the ability to remain rational and in control. The brain is lured into a trance-like state of mind. According to the NCGP, “most individuals experiencing pathological gambling say that they are seeking an aroused, euphoric state that the gambling gives them, appearing more exhilarating than the money wagered. Increasingly larger bets, or greater risks, may be needed to continue to produce the desired level of excitement.” Problem gambling grabs anyone, never discriminating between age and gender. Anyone with money is subject to its addictive powers.
How does one know if there is a gambling problem? Most experts believe if a gambler experiences at least four of the following criteria, there is a gambling problem: (1) preoccupation with gambling; (2) a need to gamble more money for desired levels of excitement; (3) repeated unsuccessful attempts to control or stop gambling; (4) restlessness or irritability when attempting to control or stop gambling; (5) gambling is a way of escaping from problems or relieving a depressed mood; (6) returns another day to gain back the money lost from gambling; (7) lies to significant people to conceal the extent of gambling; (8) commits illegal acts such as forgery, fraud theft or embezzlement to finance gambling; (9) relies on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.
What makes problem gambling a greater destructive force is that it’s not easily detected. Except for the hours and money spent in casinos, most people would never know a gambling problem exists until it’s too late. Problem gambling is found, not only in casinos, but also in quick-stops, smoke-filled rooms and the internet. Unlike substance dependence disorders, where accessibility to the alcohol or drugs is more difficult, the “drug” of problem gambling is money, an accessible commodity earned by anyone who is employed. Gaming machines even allow gamblers to charge their credit card. Problem gambling is truly an “invisible disorder.”
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, counseling help is available. With appropriate treatment and time, a gambling addict can recover and find restoration. The Light reminds us, “A man is a slave to whatever controls him” (2 Peter 2:19 TLB).
Don’t let gambling control you. Rather, let The Light guide you.