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For most of us, important elections, baseball and football games, and major boxing matches are incidental to our lives; even if we follow them, we focus most of our attention on more pressing things. Gambling addicts are cut from a different cloth. Events like these are exceptionally exciting, and sometimes dominate their lives, their thinking, and even their finances. Like other addictions, this one is expensive, difficult to break, and destructive.

Gambling is not new; religious laws pertaining to it date back to the times of the Mishnah thousands of years ago. More recently, in the early and even mid-1900s, it was illegal in most states, and limited to horse and dog racing. Gambling on games like “Bingo” also was permitted because wagers were small and because these games were essentially used just for social gatherings and fundraising.

Times have certainly changed over the years, and these days every imaginable form of gambling is legal and easily accessible. Unfortunately, numerous people have become ensnared by the lure of gambling.

An estimated 10 million Americans are gambling addicts and will bet on anything. Casino games like “21,” roulette, and slots are very popular with them. But when nothing else is available, hardcore gamblers will bet on much more mundane things, such as how many cars will come down the block in the next five minutes or what color the first vehicle will be.

Even lottery games may be exceptionally enticing to them, as prizes sometimes are humongous, tickets cost only a few dollars, and vendors are available all over the place. 

Kings And Queens

Traditionally, gambling has been dominated by men: An estimated 4.2% of the population are male gambling addicts, compared to 2.9% of women.

More surprising is that 750,000 young people aged 14-21 have this predilection. Another surprising statistic the risk of getting hooked more than doubles for young adults in college settings. 

In 2021, the gambling industry garnered $51 billion in revenues. However, the real total is much higher, as this number doesn’t include the bets made with bookies, in office pools, and the countless others between friends and the like.

Incidentally, some individuals who continually buy very high-risk cryptos, options, and the like are essentially using the market as a casino.

How It Starts

Even people who have never bet before can become addicted very easily and quickly. Some of them have made only one bet, enjoyed “beginner’s luck,” and got the impression that it’s easy to make money gambling. As they quickly discover that’s just not so.

Others have very different stories. For example, they may have “eased” into betting because they were trying to be sociable with friends and acquaintances who gambled and “went along for the ride.” Many more people turn to gambling out of boredom, loneliness, or as an escape from intense stress.

According to phychguides.com, still others turn to gambling “because they are desperate for money, want to experience thrills and highs, crave the attention of being a successful gambler, and the entertaining atmosphere of the mainstream gambling scene.”

Losing money is only one of the downsides of this problem, as addicts also suffer from intense anxiety, develop serious marital and work problems, borrow money from loan sharks to bet, and are sometimes beaten or worse if they can’t pay off loans and losses.

There are numerous stories about people who never gambled yet slid into this addiction. Several months ago, The New York Post ran a story about a young lady in the Midwest who was experiencing serious problems and turned to gambling as a diversion.

Christina was separated from her first husband when she lost her grandmother, to whom she was very close; at the time she lived at home with her mother. Then her mother had a heart attack.

Christina rushed her to a hospital, then returned home to get various items for her. For some reason, rather than bringing them to her mother, she drove past a casino and stopped there. “The flashing lights, friendly atmosphere and hope of winning a jackpot gave her relief from the stress she was experiencing,” The Post explained. She won $1,200.

In the following months and years, she became a regular at the casino and had some very satisfying wins, but quickly lost those and much more. Christina felt compelled to borrow money from family and friends to make more bets.

At the worst of her addiction, she had emptied the joint savings account with her second husband and couldn’t repay any of the loans she took – not to mention huge credit card bills, medical expenses, back taxes, and other debt. She had lost nearly a half-million dollars and was contemplating suicide.

There are countless more stories of gambling addicts who cheated their employers and employees, family and friends, developed emotional problems, and sometimes had complete breakdowns. One woman desperate for money to bet kept raiding her daughter’s piggy bank. Many also experience severe depression and become addicted to pills and/or alcohol.

In a shockingly brief time frame, they went from being respected and productive members of their communities to becoming deceitful and thieving, and suffering through all kinds of horrors. How could this happen to so many people? Who is at fault for these problems?

It would be to easy say these addicts caused their own problems, and should never have acted so irresponsibly, and maybe there’s truth in that. But these stories are about essentially good people who slipped into addiction because of other problems. They may deserve some sympathy.

Fortunately, organizations like Gamblers Anonymous help compulsive addicts to not only control but also recover from this problem. There also are various support groups as well as professionals who have expertise in this problem who can be consulted.

Hopefully, just being aware that this problem can be controlled will offer a degree of reassurance and be an important first step in its resolution. With will-power and professional help, the odds of recovery may be good.

Sources: addictions.com; gamblingnews.com; nypost.com; psychguides.com; therecoveryvillage.com