Up to a decade ago, gambling was always considered a man's game. Men were the risk takers, the chance takers and the people up at 4am in boozy, smoky poker halls and dumping their coins into slot machines - relentless beeps and chimes and whizzing sounds coming from the slots, with flashing lights that promised the next time just might be the next big win.
But gambling - compulsive gambling - is not just a man's game. Women also love to gamble a night away and what starts off as initial fun often ends up in a compulsive addiction that ends jobs, separates families and ruins lives.
The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that today, nearly 50% of addicts seeking help are female. But many experts believe that some female gamblers today are like female drug and alcohol addicts of decades back - they are hushed up and medicated - as well as shamed into silence.
According to the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ), about 5% of the general population are compulsive gamblers, and about one third of those are women. But unlike men, who are considered "men's men" if they bring their cigar and brandy to the gambling tables and talk about their winnings - women are far less likely to show off their gambling exploits and don't talk about winning. The majority of women who gamble compulsively say they do it to escape their reality - money problems (ironically), relationship problems, and being overwhelmed with work and family commitments.
The CCGNJ also explains that there are three stages in compulsive gambling - The Winning Phase, The Losing Phase, The Desperation Phase.
The initial high of winning money is what hooks people. That first high is often like the first high of drugs - incomparable. As the addict gets deeper into the compulsion, they constantly chase that big first high and they rarely achieve it.
Once hooked, they realize they are in too deeply and can't get out. This when lying, stealing, fraud and embezzlement can start. Stealing from family, from work and passing bad checks is common. Ultimately, women have sold their wedding rings, their children's toys and left their children home alone or in cars all night in order to enable their habit.
The last phase - the Desperation Phase, is just that. Addicts get deeper into crime to keep up the funds, they can endanger those around them and become desperate, depressed or even suicidal.
How does a gambler hit bottom? Some gambler's bottom is death. Others get arrested, lose their homes, jobs or even children. Many leave enormous debt in their wake.
And with the advancement of internet gambling, options are even easier for those who want them. Not only internet gambling but lotto scratch cards and bingo can hook a person.
Warnings about addictions are now mandatory in gambling houses, scratch cards and other betting outlets.
And recovery is possible - very possible! The steps are very similar to those of any addict. Some follow 12 step programs. Others seek inpatient rehab or private counseling. Compulsive gambling is something that recovered persons may have to battle for a lifetime, and most adopt a one-day-at-a-time stance like any other addict.
For help, you can contact Gamblers Anonymous here : www.gamblersanonymous.org
Gam Anon is a 12 step program that can be found here : www.gam-anon.org
or call the National Council on Problem Gambling's free 24- hour hotline at 1-800-522-4700 and you can reach them on line at www.ncpgambling.org
Visit EmpowHer's Compulsive Gambling page here : http://www.empowher.com/media/reference/compulsive-gambling
Do you or someone you know have a problem with compulsive gambling? How do you (or they) cope?
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