CLOSER LOOK: Gambling, Suicide Risk and Addiction Recovery

Posted on Friday, August 26, 2022 by Rafael Sierra, Marya Morgan

(K-LOVE Closer Look) – Gambling addiction is a leading cause of suicide in the United States. “Roughly 20% of people with severe gambling problems have made a lethal attempt in the past year,” says Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “Another 50% had suicidal thoughts.” The thrill of the bet buries vulnerable gamblers deep in debts matched only by secret shame. “We often call gambling the hidden addiction.” 

While its certainly true that most people who gamble will not develop an addiction, odds are it will be devastating those that do. Derek Longmeier of Problem Gambling Network of Ohio laments the rise in addiction caused by easy access on the internet. More women than ever and now even teens take the risk. “It’s simple as something you can play on your phone right in front of your family and they’d never know that you’re gambling.

Diagnosing a problem gambler can be difficult, they say, but there is always a tell. 

“You can’t smell it on someone’s breath, you can’t see dice marks in someone’s arm –” says Whyte, but it mimics all the signs of substance abuse. Mounting financial and emotional circumstances eventually alert loved ones to the crisis, and even chemicals in your body begin to change. “You can look certainly in the brains of problem gamblers and they look identical to the brains of people with substance abuse problems,” he explains. “The same centers are deadened the same centers are activated,” and “of course, we know that behavior can be addictive as well.”

Problem gamblers begin to hide their activities, like betting exclusively at work, lying to their loved ones about how much they play, diverting the mail at home or even turning to crime. “70% of people with severe gambling problems admit to committing white collar crime – theft, fraud, embezzlement, forgery, typically against their employer,” says Whyte. “They honestly told themselves they were just borrowing the money and that they’d pay it back after they won.”

Though gambling addiction may seem bleak, stats prove you can win recovery, with as many as 2 outta 3 people who seek treatment stop gambling. Methods include education programs, self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous, online workbooks or counselors who specialize in treating addiction can all help you to overcome the stigma and get to the roots of the addiction.

“You know there’s enormous sympathy for (recovering alcoholics) and there’s enormous stigma for someone who may have a gambling problem,” says Whyte. “We want to create that understanding and awareness like what most Americans have for someone who may have a drinking problem.” 

“Help is available, hope is available, people can recover and their lives can be made better.” says Longmeier. Self-compassion, they say, is key.

Ask yourself: is gambling causing harm in my relationships? Am I lying to loved ones about the money or time I’m spending? Am I gambling to having fun or do I feel like I have to? 

Make the call.

Helpline numbers for NCPG 800 522 4700
[Photo Credit:]


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