Gambling Disorder and Older Americans


When we speak on the topic of addiction, it is typically with regard to drugs and alcohol. Yet, there are a number of other addictions that can disrupt the course of one’s life that do not involve mind altering substances. One such addiction is that of gambling, and it is not uncommon for people to sacrifice everything with the hopes of hitting it big, just once, on the casino floor. It is a dream that can lead to the loss of savings, home and family. And in the grips of despair, many gambling addicts will choose to take their own life—considering that to be their only option.

Gambling addiction is a condition which on the surface appears to be benign, when compared to substance use disorder, but it can actually be just as insidious. Millions of Americans meet the criteria for gambling disorders, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 2 million adults in the United States meet the criteria for “pathological gambling,” and 4 to 6 million are considered “problem gamblers.”

Gambling Disorder

There are a many labels that have been placed on people whose gambling has gotten out of control, such as problem, compulsive and pathological. The American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) calls the most severe form of the problem—”gambling disorder.” While the problem can affect people from all walks of life, the most susceptible demographic is people in their later years.

In fact, casino data indicates that of the 101 million American casino visitors in 2014, about half were ages 50 or older, AARP Bulletin reports. There was time when the only places in America one could gamble were Atlantic City, NJ and Las Vegas, NV. Today, people need not travel far to find a casino, with Indian casinos dotting the landscape across the country. You can just hop in the car and be at a casino in no time at all, which can appear to be low lying fruit for older Americans that have the time and the money to spend. A costly illusion.

Casinos are spending a lot of money and time luring older Americans through their doors. They offer up enticing promotional deals, such as free food, booze and accommodations. And as long as one keeps the ante coming and the slot machines singing, casinos will do whatever they can to keep one in a trance. In 2014, the American casino industry reported racking in $66 billion in gambling revenue, according to the article. Seeing as nearly half of the gamblers are people over the age of 50, it is safe to assume that a lot of that money was spent by people who could ill-afford to spend it. Spending Social Security (SSA) checks, cashing in 401-Ks and mortgaging homes in order to keep playing, are not uncommon.

Gambling Disorder Treatment 

Hopefully, one’s gambling problem can be addressed before the situation gets any worse. Like with any addiction, those who are suffering are often in denial about the problem. It can be hard for someone to make the decision to seek help, and it can be hard for loved one’s to recognize that there is in fact, a problem. The DSM-V lists a number of signs that can indicate that someone has a gambling disorder, including:

  • Unable to cut back or control.
  • Irritable or restless when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
  • Risks more money to reach desired level of excitement.
  • Gambles to escape problems or depressed mood.
  • “Chases” losses
  • Lies to family and others about gambling.
  • Risks or loses relationships or job because of gambling.
  • Relies on others for financial needs caused by gambling.

In the AARP Bulletin it is reported:

‘Slots are also the most addictive form of casino gambling, with the machines designed to maximize your “time on device” until you’re out of money. A 2001 study by psychiatrist Hans Breiter, then of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, confirmed that the machine’s nickname—”electronic crack”—is an apt one. Using MRI scanners, he found that in subjects playing slots, the brain’s neural circuits fired in a way that was similar to those using cocaine.’ 

Seeking help for yourself or a loved one…

At Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat, we offer a full continuum of care including: Acute Medical Detoxification, Rehabilitation, Residential, Older Adult Addiction Treatment, Partial Hospitalization and Recovery Residences.

Please contact Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat 866.273.0868 to begin the journey of recovery.

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