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Help available for gambling addictions

By Staff | Sep 23, 2008

Is gambling affecting your daily activities? Have you taken time off work to gamble? Is gambling affecting your ability to pay debts? Does gambling affect your family life?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may have a problem with gambling addiction.

Mike Getz, gambling program manager at Compass Pointe, formerly Northwest Iowa Alcohol and Drug Treatment Unit, works with both prevention and treatment for people who have gambling problems.

“We have treated people for gambling issues for a long time,” Getz said, noting that the agency has treated clients with gambling addictions since the late 1980s.

“It’s considered a hidden addiction,” Getz said. Unfortunately, people often don’t know they have a problem until it’s too late or they’re in the middle of a crisis – such as losing their home or considering or even attempting suicide.

Some warning signs that a person may have a gambling problem would be if a person takes time off work to gamble, bills don’t get paid or debit cards are used to gamble to the point that a person’s account is empty. The problem gambler may have mood swings, talking about how much he or she won but not about how much the person lost. On vacation, the person with gambling issues may insist on going to areas there there are casinos.

Getz noted three phases in gambling: winning, losing and desperation when the person could go so far as to take out an insurance policy and attempt suicide soon after.

“Any win only makes matters worse,” Getz said.

One thing that does not help is when others may judge the person morally.

“Those are individual opinions,” Getz said. “We’re not for or against gambling. We’re very nonprejudicial about it.”

Anyone who feels he or she has a gambling problem may call 1-800-BETSOFF or call Compass Pointe directly at 712-262-2952.

Counselors will keep any information divulged strictly confidential. The BETSOFF hotline will direct people to the closest facilities for gambling treatment.

“It’s not like other addictions in that you can’t tell” it’s happening, Getz said.

One area of gambling that affects many people is sports betting, something that unfortunately affects college students. Young adults often get addicted to Internet gambling.

Getz said men are more likely to gamble on games of skill while women gamble on slots, bingo and scratch tickets since they are not as social about their gambling as men. Getz even sees high-school students with gambling problems. “It’s not just about casinos,” he said.

Gambling addiction can accompany other addictions such as alcohol, drugs or smoking. If a person has another addiction, Getz said it’s a good idea for that person to not gamble since it’s not uncommon for people to fall from one addiction into another.

Getz said the current housing crisis and possible ag crisis may lead some people to find an “easy way out” by gambling to make up debts. Instead, he offers some guidelines:

n Don’t borrow money to gamble.

n If you’re going to gamble, think of it as a form of entertainment.

n Limit the time and amount of money you’re going to spend on gambling. And be sure to stop there.

“It’s just like anything else,” Getz said. “If it gets out of control, it’s a problem.”