Arnie Wexler, ICGC and Sheila Wexler, LCADC, ICGC

hand holding money with basketball net in background

Compulsive gambling is a progressive disease, much like an addiction to alcohol or drugs. In many cases, the gambling addiction is hidden until the gambler becomes unable to function without gambling, and he or she begins to exclude all other activities from their lives.

The inability to stop gambling often results in financial devastation, broken homes, employment problems, criminal acts and suicide attempts. The gambler is eventually able to remove himself/herself from reality, to the point of being totally obsessed with gambling.

Eventually, they will do anything and everything to get the money they need so they can stay in the “action”. They will spend alltheir time and energy developing schemes in order to get money to continue their gambling. Lying becomes a way of life for the gambler. They will try to convince others and themselves that their lies are actually truths and they will eventually believe their own lies.

Some people will hit their bottom, and when they do, they know they will need to get help to stop their gambling. At this point, they want to stop, but they can’t do it alone. Many will keep gambling. Some will end up in jail, some will attempt suicide, and some will die from their addiction because they haven’t taken care of their health. For some, the stress can kill them. And then, there is a small group of addicted gamblers who will seek and find help. There are Gamblers Anonymous groups that can help the gambler find recovery- real recovery, not just abstinence.
By the time the gambler comes for help they have broken brains
(meaning, their brains don’t work like they used to when they were not in their addiction). To get real recovery, the gambler needs to work on himself/herself one day at a time and get someone who has been in recovery for a significant amount of time (a sponsor), who can help them learn how to think normally again. After some time in recovery, their brains will begin to go back to normal and they will once again become productive at their job and go back to being the father, mother, wife, or husband, son or daughter that they were before gambling took over.
Recovery is a process and it takes a lot of work on one’s self, as well as making a moral and financial inventory. But, people can and do recover.

Family involvement is crucial, and will enhance the treatment process. Family members need to understand that bailouts are detrimental to the gamblers recovery. They also need to take care of themselves and find their own road to recovery. There is a group called Gam-Anon with meetings throughout the United States. Their website is: Gam-Anon can help them understand the financial and emotional effects of living with a gambler.

Compulsive Gamblers and family members can find recovery from this devastating addiction, but it is a process that takes time and effort. During, and after treatment, the gambler needs to continue attendance at GA meetings, get a sponsor, have a pressure relief meeting to aid in financial recovery, and continue to learn and live the 12 steps of recovery.

Many people who go into treatment for drugs or drinking also have a gambling problem but it is rarely addressed in treatment. In most cases, treatment centers don’t have someone on staff that understands gambling addiction. When the client goes home and starts to gamble again, many of the old behaviors return. Hopefully, if the treatment center has someone on staff that understands gambling, the client can be assessed for a gambling addiction as well, and will be able to be treated for all addictions.

Symptoms of Gambling Disorder
The DSM-5 indicates that the symptoms of Gambling Disorder are:
A. Persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the following in a 12-month period:

1. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
2. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
4. Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).
5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).
6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses).
7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.
9. Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

A personal example from my own history while gambling is as follows:

Arnie: My gambling started at age 7 and lasted until I was 30. I placed my last bet on April 10, 1968. My wife Sheila can tell you
a little of what went on in our home in the first seven years of our marriage before I got into recovery.

Sheila: I kept thinking it would get better, but married life just got worse. The refrigerator was empty, the furniture was threadbare and the scruffy apartment was even more dismal than you can imagine.

I was trying to get pregnant and thought having a child would pull us together. The doctor told me that the stress I was living with made getting pregnant more difficult, and I certainly was living with a lot stress. Eventually, I did become pregnant and those were happy times for me, even if it was one sided. I ignored what was going on in our lives together. I told myself everything was going to be wonderful and for a while, being pregnant was my delight and I was very forgiving and less critical of Arnie. But, I was fooling myself. I will never forget when my pregnancy was close to term, I phoned Arnie at work and asked him what I should do if I went into labor. Before that, when I had a doctor’s appointment, he would send me with his brother. Now, he told me to call my father to take me to the hospital because he was busy. He had left work that day and went to the race track!

Arnie: This is a typical scenario of a relationship when someone is in the throes of their gambling addiction. It was another three years before I went for help.
Arnie and Sheila Wexler are the authors of “All Bets Are Off”, a book on gambling addiction and recovery.

Arnie and Sheila have presented at educational workshops nationally and internationally, and have trained treatment centers opening up gambling treatment programs. They also have provided expert witness testimony. They have trained over 40,000 casino employees and executives and have worked with gaming companies to help formulate Responsible Gaming Programs. In addition, Arnie has done training for Fortune 500 corporations, legislative bodies and on college campuses. He has also done trainings’ for the National Football League (NFL)and the National Basketball League (NBA).
They provide extensive training on Compulsive Gambling. 954-501-5270