When gambling becomes a problem, everyone wonders how to cope. Both seniors and their families need to recognize when gambling is no longer a game.
Gambling is the act of risking money or anything of value on an uncertain outcome. Two types of gamblers are action gamblers and relief gamblers. The action gambler is caught up in the excitement of the activity. The relief gambler enjoys the opportunity to step back and take time out from the day's activities. Problem gambling is gambling that causes harm to the gambler or to other people.
It may help to think of gambling problems on a sliding scale. Social gambling can move from non-problem gambling to low-risk gambling, where more time becomes focused on gambling. The slide to moderate-risk starts when gambling begins to cause frequent upsets in everyday life. When someone is thinking constantly about how to make more time and money to continue gambling, it is called problem gambling.
Seniors gamble for many reasons. Some gamble to relieve boredom, because they love the excitement or out of curiosity. Others use it to relax or escape problems in their daily lives. A number say they gamble because they can afford it. Some feel it is like taking a holiday without leaving town or that it allows them to socialize. For a few, it is about the money. Mostly, people gamble for social or personal reasons. Many senior gamblers say they can enjoy themselves while staying within budget.
Several clues come to mind. First, it is important to separate social gambling from problem gambling. One difference between the two is that senior problem gamblers begin to spend more and more time playing. They may become secretive or defensive when asked about the gambling.
Sometimes problem gamblers become unable to meet basic financial needs, such as paying for rent or mortgage, groceries or medications. If the senior is beginning to spend savings or cash in assets to be able to keep gambling, this is a concern. Continuing losses may be part of this phase, as the gambler focuses on playing in spite of increasing hardship. Borrowing from friends and family can cause more anxiety as more resources are needed to continue gambling.
Help is available and recovery is possible. Communities have resources in place with effective methods to help anyone with a gambling issue. Discussion groups at seniors' centers offer one way to identify gambling problems. Peer support from other seniors in recovery from problem gambling can help ease the stress. As well, the topic can be discussed in addiction-focused seniors' groups.
Posters and information pamphlets on problem gambling can be found in doctor's offices, and prevention ads may also help. Community programs are essential supports in helping seniors make a healthy recovery.
Problem gambling recovery for seniors includes three major stages:
Seniors and their families may have many issues to deal with once recovery has begun. Loss of trust and anxiety about the financial stress created by the gambling can be major stumbling blocks. Learning more about problem gambling can help. Clear plans of action support the senior gambler in making changes. Education, discussion and clear planning are essential in helping the whole family recover. Family members can also find support from community organizations.
Community awareness about seniors and gambling is growing. It is reassuring to know so many resources are available to help. Those in need can get the information, counselling and support necessary to recover from problem gambling. In many cases, feelings of despair and hopelessness are gradually replaced by those of hope and joy. Although change takes time, it is an essential part of helping senior recovering gamblers to live happier, healthier lives.