Risk of Freedom: Seniors and Problem Gambling
Many seniors today — both men and women — also have income that is more discretionary and more leisure hours than their peers of two or three decades ago. Such a combination makes travel and leisure attractive — especially when coupled with a chance to win a bit of extra cash. Even if one lives in a senior living complex, retirement home or care facility, all he or she needs is a computer and a credit card to get involved with online and or social gambling.
Social gambling is an act of risking money or something else of value on an activity with an uncertain outcome. Playing cards or video games for money, buying raffle tickets, betting on who’s going to win the next game of pool, or wagering on your favorite team, or favorite video or online game – it’s all considered to be gambling. However, with gambling come risk, particularly folks over 65.
What started out as a social activity for fun, for thousands of retired men and women, turns into a slow descent into compulsive gambling, a behavior that affects the gambler, his or her family, employer and community. Compulsive gambling has become “hidden illness since there is neither smell on the breath nor stumbling of steps or speech. Nonetheless, a gambling addiction is as debilitating as alcohol or drug addiction.” It can be particularly challenging since it occurs at a time in a person’s life when recouping financial losses can be very difficult, if not impossible.
Today, there are links to a range of serious health problems attributed to the sedentary aspect of gambling. They including obesity, heart disease, intestinal problems, fibromyalgia, migraine, depression, insomnia and other stress-related disorders. Mental or physical impairment may cloud judgement. Compulsive gamblers are more likely to show up in emergency rooms, reflecting their poor health and chaotic lives. Unfortunately, health professionals rarely assess for problem gambling during health screenings or wellness checks.
The truth is that older adults are less likely to seek help or treatment due confusion about their own behaviors. Some are embarrassed that they cannot control their urges to gamble and reluctant to seek help because they think that “at their age they should know better.” Further, many older adults may not understand addiction, making them less likely to identify a gambling problem. Even if they recognize that they have a problem, they may not know that help is available or where to get it.
Having a conversation about problem gambling can be very difficult. Your loved one may resist talking about it and may insist that there isn’t a problem. Assure them that you have their best interests in mind, and that you want to help, not judge. Encourage your loved one to talk to a professional. Treatment is available for gambling addiction and includes support groups, psychotherapy and sometimes medication.
In Oregon, treatment and counseling services are available free to any Oregon resident who has problems related to gambling either as a problem gambler or as a family member or friend of a problem gambler. Treatment options include telephone counseling, in-person individual counseling, and group counseling.
HELP FOR GAMBLING – PROBLEM GAMBLING HOTLINE
Call: 1-877-My Limit (1-877-695-4648)
Instant Messaging/Chat: http://www.opgr.org/
Tillamook Family Counseling Center, (503) 842-8201
Help is free, confidential, and it works.