Is it harmless fun or a gambling addiction?

The fact is, if you think your loved one's gambling is a problem, it is. Credit: Fuse
The fact is, if you think your loved one’s gambling is a problem, it is.
Credit: Fuse

The question: Every football season, my husband disappears on Sundays and Monday evening. I know he and his friends bet on fantasy football and playoff games. But last week I noticed $4,000 was missing from our joint account. With Super Bowl Sunday coming up, I’m worried. Does he have a gambling problem?

I know as much about sports gambling as I do about root canals. So to thoughtfully answer to your question, I turned to Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling. His response: “If you think it’s an issue, it’s an issue.”

According to the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the virtual bible of the mental health profession, a person can be diagnosed with a gambling disorder if he or she meets at least five of these criteria over a 10-month period:

  1. Feels a need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
  2. Experiences restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
  3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling.
  4. Is preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).
  5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).
  6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses).
  7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
  8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.
  9. Has relied on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

Unlike drinking, however, disordered gambling may not be immediately obvious to loved ones. Many consider their boyfriend’s, girlfriend’s or spouse’s betting as enjoyable pastimes. Many gamblers are nonplussed when they don’t have enough money for groceries, because they assume that it’s par for the course and they’ll eventually make up for their losses.

According to Maney, it’s not until the consequences become extreme — for example, their bank accounts get depleted, or they lose their house – that compulsive gamblers and their families realize the extent of the problem.

As for football, Super Bowl Sunday is to pathological gamblers what New Year’s Eve is to alcoholics: It’s exciting and everybody’s doing it so it’s easier to brush off big betting as no big deal. In addition to gambling on the winning team (odds are 50/50) or the final score, people wager on who wins the coin toss or even whether it will snow. With literally hundreds of different opportunities to cash in or win money that was previously lost, temptation for disordered gamblers is especially high

Maney said he wishes that there were public service announcement warning people about compulsive gambling along with all the Super Bowl publicity. With the stakes so high, it’s no wonder that gambling has been linked to another well-known Superbowl phenomenon – increased risk of domestic violence.

If you think your husband has a problem, you can call the New York Council on Public Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous, or Gam-anon, which provides support to families of compulsive gamblers. Good luck.

— This column is not intended to be a substitute for a private consultation with a mental health professional, nor is this therapist liable for any actions taken as a result of this column. If you have concerns related to this column, make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author.


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