The dark side of gambling

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

They say it can all begin with a win.

The adrenaline rush that comes from correctly picking the perfect number combination or simply revealing the prize from scratching a winning ticket can be addictive.

For many, the power of such a rush can motivate a new rise in addictive behavior: gambling addictions.

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According to, a website for health and lifestyle resources, behaviors such as gambling can become as chemically addictive as alcohol or drugs.

“In the broadest sense, addictive or pathological gambling is gambling behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational,” according to the site. “Addictive gambling is sometimes referred to as the ‘hidden illness,’ because there are no visible physical symptoms. It is a chronic and progressive disease that is both diagnosable and treatable.”

While some might not consider playing the lottery as serious a gambling outlet as poker tournaments, betting on horse races or online gambling, the signs and symptoms of potential problems can still be seen in lotto purchases. Oftentimes, problems can begin with simple gambling payoffs such as those offered by the lottery.

The American Psychological Association has a list of ten symptoms of which people should be aware of in looking for problematic gambling. The list includes a preoccupation with gambling that inhibits future plans, a higher tolerance where larger amounts of money are needed to gamble in order to feel excited, lying to friends and family about gambling and having to rely on others for money because of desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

Another symptom of potentially addictive gambling is a behavior known as chasing. In a 1994 USA Today article, Psychiatrist and then Director of the Ochsner Addictive Behavior Unit, New Orleans, John Thompson said, “For many people with gambling addictions, it doesn’t matter how much money is being spent or where that money comes from. They will begin a process known as ‘chasing’; that is, after losing a large amount of money, they later return to that activity to try to win back those losses.”

As with many addictive behaviors like it, treating a gambling addiction takes the same acceptance and recognition for a need to change on the part of the addict. In-patient treatment, psychotherapy and counseling have all been recommended paths to recovery. However, group therapy such as Gamblers Anonymous is also suggested.

“Like alcoholism or drug addiction, pathological gambling can become a very isolative [condition],” Thompson said. “We often find that, when our patients are suffering the worst and need their families and friends the most, they have become so isolated that they don’t have anyone left.&uot;