Flashing lights, ringing bells, swarming people—these are images that come to mind when most people initially think about gambling. For most, it’s simply a form of entertainment. For others, it is not all glamour and glitz and there’s nothing simple about it. It’s a serious addiction, and it’s obsessing, controlling and ruining their lives.
It’s estimated that 5 percent of the general population are compulsive gamblers. Of those, according to the New Jersey Council on Problem Gambling, one-third are women.
Research shows that women begin gambling later in life, closer to age 30 or 35, versus men, who may begin in their teenage years. Even with a later start, according to Reuters Health, women are at greater risk for gambling compulsively and become addicted to gambling three times faster than males. As a result of women gambling later in life, the onset of addiction happens more rapidly. Much like building tolerance to alcohol, women build a tolerance to gambling which leads to compulsivity.
How does gambling become compulsive? Signs and symptoms include:
• Thinking excessively about gambling
• Increasing how often she talks about past gambling experiences
• Gambling as a response to negative feelings
• Attempting to gain back her financial losses
• Lying to family members or others regarding the extent of her gambling
• Committing illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement to finance her gambling
• Hiding gambling activities
• Feeling restless or irritable when she is unable to gamble
• Increasing the amount of money so she feels a rush of euphoria
• Attempting to stop or cut back her gambling behaviors
According to the Arizona Council on Problem Gambling, of the onethird of the population that gambles compulsively, 95 percent of women gamble to escape from:
• Chronic pain/health problems
• Boredom/lack of leisure
• Grief and loss
• Domineering spouse/relationship issues
• Emotional issues (depression, stress, empty nest, lack of identity, fear of death, loss of loved one)
Women who are compulsive gamblers typically enjoy gambling on games of chance (lottery, slot machines, bingo, poker machines) versus games of skill (blackjack, pool, sports). Games of chance are truly based on a random chance. Games of skill are also based on random chance, but one can practice and improve, which will then increase his/her probability of winning. Women who are escape gamblers, gamble on games of chance because these games allow an “escape” into the game or machine. Addicted gamblers may discuss how the machine becomes a “friend,” that “the machine is always there,” and “it never lets her down, even when she is losing.” As the woman gambles, she is able to block out everything around her and she and her “friend” are alone.
Online gambling is also an increasing concern. Researchers report out of the estimated 30-40 million online gamers, women represent 50.2 percent. This statistic is not surprising since online gaming allows women to escape from reality while in the comforts of home—giving a sense that they are not being neglectful of family or other duties. Online gaming provides a safe, controlled and comfortable environment where a woman can maintain a sense of power and identity. However, this is not reality. The addiction gives her the sense this is her reality. As she continues in this false reality, the compulsion and addiction escalate and progress to destruction.
As we continue to investigate the depths of women and compulsive gambling, we find the majority of these women also suffer from other mental health issues. Approximately 80 percent suffer from depression, 73 percent from anxiety and 52 percent from alcohol or other substances and addictive behaviors. According to the Women’s Addiction Foundation, as many as one in five women who have a serious gambling problem have considered suicide and 15-24 percent of them have attempted suicide. Of all the addictions, gambling has the highest rate for attempted suicide. This is a direct result of the desperation and hopelessness one experiences as a result of his/her financial consequences.
While gambling can have devastating effects on those that it conquers, there is recovery and hope. Recovery begins when she takes her first step to admitting her problem and verbalizes a willingness to make changes in her life. This takes courage. Recovery is finding balance in life between physical well-being, emotional well-being and spiritual well-being. Finding support through self-help programs and/or professionals and family can assist with finding balance and recovery. She will face her reality and begin working towards changing her reality to experience health, happiness and life. tpw