It starts with excitement, competitiveness, or sometimes just as an escape. It escalates into a problem when you become dependent on it.
Gambling includes a wide range of activities, including raffles, casinos, lotteries, sports betting and online contests.
“Gambling is not understood as an addiction,” said Scott Nelson, problem gambling counselor of Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism. “It takes an individual a while to understand the problem exists.”
Like any addiction, there’s a significant amount of denial involved, Nelson said.
“It takes some outside interference to trigger someone to engage in self-help treatment,” said Nelson, adding that by the time gamblers come to see him, they have usually gotten to a point where their life is completely unmanageable.
Gambling is legal in Connecticut and highly visible with the state featuring some of the country’s top casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
And while Litchfield County has the lowest rate of problem gamblers in the state, the county is home to nearly 6 percent of them, according to a study from the Spectrum Gaming Group. The state’s elderly population is identified in the study as the least affected by gambling addiction. But the study was conducted in 2009, and experts say more people may have turned to gambling during the economic recession.
Warning signs are thinking gambling can solve all financial problems, spending more time or money than anticipated, spending money that should be allocated for necessities like food, housing and utilities, borrowing money to continue gambling and hiding evidence of gambling, according to Loreen Rugle, director of Problem Gambling Services at the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Those with low incomes, minorities, youth and men are at higher risk of developing a gambling problem.
For most people, Nelson said, gambling starts innocently. But older adults are vulnerable, Rugle said, as many casinos cater for them. Adults with medical problems who can’t engage in physical activities often go to casinos as a way to get out of the house, he said.
For many of the patients Nelson has treated from Litchfield County, scratch tickets and lottery addiction are more common than going to casinos, Nelson said.
Problems develop as the gamblers go beyond their expectation. Winning or losing, they always aim for the next big win, and it’s hard to give up that illusion. Rugle said gambling releases the same chemical to the brain as drugs and alcohol, or simply put, gambling can get you high.
“It can be a pain reliever, it can get you excited like cocaine,” Rugle said, “Depending on the person and the form of gambling, it might numb you out.”
And a gambling problem is easy to hide. While you can see the physiological change of an intoxicated person, you can’t see it in a problem gambler, Nelson said, especially not a person who gambles online in the privacy or his or her own home.
“Because of this, gambling goes unnoticed and lasts longer than other addictions,” Nelson said.
Anger, fear, confusion and a large sense of betrayal are widespread among family members of problem gamblers. Because the addiction is caught much later than other addictions, it triggers more feelings of betrayal of families, Nelson said.
By Shako Liu
Shako Liu covers the towns of Litchfield, Warren, Goshen and Morris for The Register Citizen and Litchfield County Times. Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Shako on Twitter: shako_liu.
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