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The Hidden Addiction
By Carol O’Hare
Executive Director – Nevada Council on Problem Gambling

In the beginning I gambled because it was fun. It was magical the way gambling freed me from the worries, fears and frustrations of everyday living. When I was tense, gambling relaxed me. When I was angry, gambling calmed me down. When I was happy, I celebrated feeling good by gambling. Slowly, over time, gambling became the only coping mechanism I knew. And when the financial problems grew and the stress of the money overwhelmed me, I convinced myself that one more bet would solve the problem. Of course one bet led to the next and the next and even if I won, it wasn't enough.

You can't be too young or too old or too educated or too religious to become a complusive gambler.

I continued to gamble to ease my pain - the pain of lost money, lost time, lost self-respect, and the pain of losing control. With every futile attempt to stop came more pain, anger, frustration and depression. Oh, there were brief hours or days that I resisted the urge, feeling confident that this time I had really quit. Unfortunately, I also convinced myself that I must be O.K. and then went out gambling to prove it to myself. The end result was always the same as I drove home hating myself and swearing I would never do it again.

Somewhere along the way, gambling ceased to be fun. Instead of feeling

better when I gambled, I felt nothing. I gambled to get numb and avoid the pain. In the end,

Somewhere along the way, gambling ceased to be fun.

I gambled because it hurt too much to try to resist. I couldn't control it - it controlled me. My days were spent in panic looking for ways to cover the checks I had written the night before, or thinking up lies to tell my family and friends to explain why I was never home and where my money was going. I stole money from my children, neglected their needs and struggled to look as if I had it all together.

Compulsive gambling has been called the hidden addiction. I hid it well. My family, friends, and coworkers saw me struggle, but I always had an explanation. I couldn't admit to anyone what was causing the problems in my life, because I was afraid. Afraid of their judgement, their anger and afraid that if I told them the truth, they would know that I was crazy. I didn't know that I was suffering from an illness that can be treated, I thought I was insane. After all, wouldn't you have to be crazy to become so obsessed with something that you would lie, cheat, steal and risk the lives of your children for it?

For decades in this country we have faced the issue of addiction as it pertains to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, even caffeine, food and sex. But what about addiction to gambling? It isn't new, yet we are only just beginning to understand it. Like all addictions it doesn't discriminate. You can't be too young or too old or too educated or too religious to become a compulsive gambler. A 1997 study indicates that up to 2 percent of adults who gamble suffer from this disorder and that includes both men and women.

We have taken some positive steps forward in the areas of research and treatment and we continue to push for education and prevention programs. We don't need to reinvent the wheel - addiction is a mental health problem and we need to address it as such. Compulsive gamblers are not bad people who need to get good, they are good people who need help to deal with their illness. Every time you read or hear something about problem gambling, remember that the real story is about people who still suffer in silence, hiding the pain and living in fear of judgement.