DO NOT GAMBLE WITH YOUR RECOVERY

Rockers In Recovery® – Media
Therapeutic CornerEvery week I am contacted by people dealing with problems created by their gambling. Most of them have lost everything and are trying to figure out what happened to their lives. All are in deep financial trouble and many are facing criminal charges. Some are contemplating suicide. Compulsive gambling has the highest suicide rate of all addictions. There are two reasons which allow the gambler to get so lost in his addiction. First, compulsive gambling is known as the hidden addiction. There are no outward manifestations. There is no odor, no staggering, no slurred speech. People do not realize a problem is starting to consume a loved one or a friend until it is too late. Second, as long as the gambler has a token, the gambler has hope. The gambler will only seek help when all the money is gone.

A large number of gamblers have one other thing in common; they are in recovery from substance abuse. Many in this group have been clean and sober and in a twelve step program for many years. The last two people who contacted me both had an active gambling addiction, one with eight and the other with fifteen years of recovery.

Gambling is an insidious addiction. A person predisposed to develop a gambling problem may spend years gambling socially and suffering minimal ill effects. But that person will eventually cross the line into a full blown addiction. The chains of addiction are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. The devastation we gamblers leave in our wake can take a lifetime to recover from. Relationships are often fatally destroyed because of the betrayal of trust by the compulsive gambler.

Studies have shown that between 12% and 20% of substance abusers in inpatient rehab programs also have a co-occurring gambling problem. We should start treating this group immediately. This can be accomplished by implementing an aftercare program to specifically offer treatment for a gambling problem.

I conducted a survey of substance abuse patients at Brighton Hospital in Brighton, Michigan. I screened 8,000 substance abusers, primarily alcoholics, for a gambling problem. Sixteen percent of the patients screened identified as having a problem. What was more interesting was that the majority of the remaining eighty-four percent did not gamble at all. The reason for this turned out to be quite simple. The addiction that brought them into the hospital was working just fine. They did not need another addiction at that time. Unfortunately it is this group that, after treatment for substance abuse, will trade their substance abuse addiction for a gambling addiction. They leave their alcoholism or drug abuse at the hospital and walk down the street and find a new addiction to replace it.

This is a large group of people who are predisposed to problem gambling and, at the same time, the most economical and easy to treat. All we have to do is educate them about the dangers of gambling, just as we currently educate alcoholics about the dangers of other substances. The theme should be addiction is addiction is addiction. Education should lead to well informed and appropriate choices for the person in recovery.

Another area that holds great promise is educating people in recovery in the twelve step programs. There is a need to start discussions relating to gambling and other process addictions. Members need to be warned of the devastation that gambling can cause a person in recovery. I am deeply saddened by the hundreds of gamblers coming out of twelve step programs who have lost most of what they had gained back while in that program because of a lack of knowledge about gambling addiction. The message is simple. If you are in recovery, do not gamble. If you need help for a gambling problem, contact me at burkemichaelj@yahoo.com.

Michael Burke lives in Howell, Michigan where he practiced law for 25 years.

Michaels’ book “Never Enough: One Lawyer’s True Story of How He Gambled His Career Away” has been published by the American Bar Association. Proceeds from the book go to his victims. He travels the country speaking to groups on the topic of trading addictions and compulsive gambling.

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