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Michael Buzzelli, MPH, MA, OCPSA
Problem Gambling Specialist
It is estimated that one person throughout the world dies by suicide every 40 seconds (World Health Organization, 2002). The National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies, reports that one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide, a rate higher than for any other addictive disorder. People who struggle with gambling problems may experience serious social, emotional, financial and health consequences. For many, coping with the negative emotions related to these issues, can become overwhelming. Feelings of shame, hopelessness and failure may seem too hard to bear. For some, suicide appears to be a solution to all of these problems. Multiple studies show the correlating factors for such gambling-related deaths by suicide include unmanageable debt, unemployment, depression, and previous suicide attempts (Wong et al, 2010; Hintikka et al, 1998; Chan, et al, 2009; Blaszczynski and Farrell 1998). One study showed that 77.5% of those experiencing problems with gambling had been diagnosed with a mood disorder at some point in their life, compared to only 25% in the control group (Specker et al., 1996). Higher rates of depression were also reported among women who gamble, compared to women in the general population (Westphal & Johnson, 2002). As far as stressful events or circumstances, persons experiencing problems related to gambling often experience conflict with family or friends, financial problems, as well as legal or work-related problems (Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling).
One pathological gambler puts it “I would argue that the “bottom” for a compulsive gambler is much lower than that of other addicts. Why? Compulsive gambling does not physically impair the addict. We don’t fall down, slur our words, pass out or exhibit other outwardly visible warning signs. Our livers don’t give out and our kidneys don’t fail. Compulsive gamblers stop gambling when our resources run out. Period. There are no more stashes of cash, no more credit card cash advances to be had, no more loans from friends and family and no household funds to reallocate to feed our addiction. By the time a compulsive gambler reaches bottom they have several choices; reach out for help through Gamblers Anonymous, faith-based groups and therapy, face a life of desperation on government subsidies or on the streets and, all too often, addicted gamblers see suicide as the only way out.” http://lanieshope.org/gambling-addiction-suicide
So what can we do about this trend? Community awareness that gambling can become an addiction, but also that it is treatable and people do recover is key. Help is available in many forms from addiction therapy and group counseling to peer-support such as Gamblers Anonymous. Here in Cleveland, at Recovery Resources, a gambler and their family members can receive comprehensive gambling-specific therapy free of charge. That is right, both the gambler and their loved ones can receive treatment at no cost. The support of family members and friends, combined with therapy, peer-support and the knowledge that individuals can and do recover will hopefully diminish the number of pathological gamblers that view suicide as their only way out. Visit our website recres.org or call 216-431-4131 to learn more about our gambling prevention and treatment resources and programming.