People have probably been gambling ever since Eve first bet Adam that one bite wouldn’t hurt – and we’ve all been paying off that bet ever since!
Gambling used to be looked upon strictly as recreation or diversion. Now it is a major thrust to raise revenue for governments. It has been found that two-thirds of all Americans think nothing of wagering approximately $177 billion during the course of any given year. That’s fifteen times as much as we give to our churches and twice as much as we spend on college educations.
Although gambling turns over more money each year than do the 75 largest U.S. corporations combined, the severity of “problem gambling” is not as obvious to the general public as it is with other addictions – like alcoholism for example.
The reasons are simple: Gambling is a pure form of psychological addiction – there are no physical symptoms. Those who suffer from it don’t stagger like the alcoholic. There is no glassy look in the eye. Problem gamblers are usually hard workers and big achievers. Many are professional people, winners in many aspects of their lives, but devastated and tormented “losers” when it comes to their addictive behavioral pattern of pathological gambling.
What is Gambling Addiction?
Compulsive gambling is a progressive impulse disorder in which an individual is chronically and uncontrollably preoccupied with gambling, and the urge to gamble. Gamblers Anonymous describes a compulsive gambler as a person whose gambling has caused growing and continuing problems in any department of his or her life.
There are between five and seven million compulsive gamblers in the United States. Those caught within the grip of this addiction find that many serious problems have occurred in their life, and they may be facing marital, employment, financial and even legal problems that would not have occurred if it were not for their gambling.
The compulsive gambler is a master at deceiving themselves about their addiction, and is quite adept at deceiving their families and friends as well. There is little chance that they can be “spotted” by a friend or colleague because the nature of the disorder lends itself to privacy and lack of detection.
The problem gambler manipulates people without meaning to do so, for he/she suffers from a compulsion that defeats logic, reason and good intentions. They labor under the delusion that they are going to make that “big score” and pay everyone back with interest—particularly their spouse and children.
The victims of this problem are literally destroying themselves at disproportionate levels, with suicide rates of 180 times above the normal population, frequent involvement in loans, larceny and other lies affecting their families. These persons are as different as any cross section of eight million people can be except for one fact: Compulsive gambling is causing continuing problems in their lives.
Is Gambling Wrong?
While there is nothing in the Bible that specifically forbids gambling, it clearly condemns some of its principle ingredients such as greed, slothfulness and worldliness. The “casting of lots” from where we get our word “lottery” was referred to in both the secular and sacred records of many ancient peoples.
The Bible records numerous decisions that were made on the basis of casting lots. However, such examples should not be construed as gambling. Rather, at that time it was used to seek God’s direction regarding a necessary decision. Real gambling involves chance, risk, excitement and greed.
During the Middle Ages Jewish rabbis forbade all games of chance. Muhammad included gambling among the Koran’s list of forbidden activities. Confucius referred to gambling as a human weakness to be shied away from. Francis Scott Key introduced an antigambling resolution in 1817 to the General Convention of the American Episcopal Church in which he characterized the vice as “inconsistent with Christian sobriety, dangerous to the morals of church members, and unbecoming to the character of communicants.”
And yet, it has been found that many Christians think nothing of “investing” in lottery tickets with every paycheck, forever fantasizing about that big payoff. Dr. Durand Jacobs, founder of the California Council on Compulsive Gambling, believes that many of the new compulsive gamblers “were baptized in the local 7-Eleven,” where they bought lottery tickets. A person is three and a half times more likely to be killed by lightning and five times more likely to be eaten by a shark than he is to win a state lottery jackpot. Most lottery players are ages 25-34, with annual incomes of less than $50,000.
How Does the Addiction Progress?
Compulsive gambling begins with “social” gambling – for excitement, leisure or escape, or merely to relieve boredom. Monetary profit is rarely a factor at that point. The addictive aspect may later be triggered by a large win, providing the gambler with a “high” that develops into an exhilarating feeling that Lady Luck will repeat the win and all his/her financial problems will be over.
This false assumption can eventually progress into large loses of money and self-esteem that lead to a frantic pursuit of wins. By the time the gambler is out of control and tries to stop, they may have already lost a family or career.
Though their resources have been depleted, big borrowing allows them to resume gambling with a frenzy. Eventually, with assets gone and a huge debt incurred, along with a possible criminal record, a compulsive gambler will “bottom out” and may seek treatment. The sad part is that few compulsive gamblers ever achieve long-term abstinence, but victory is all the sweeter for those who do!
Help for Gambling Addiction
Even total abstinence seldom works very well unless the person introduces new interests and activities into his /her life. In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus talks about a man who gets rid of a bad habit
(“an unclean spirit”) but instead of then filling his life with God’s righteousness, he simply remains “empty, swept and garnished.” Unfortunately, when the unclean spirit returns – as temptation always does – it finds an easy entrance into its former habitation. Jesus warns that “the last state of this man is worse than the first.” So it is wise to assure continued success through completely committing one’s life to the cleansing and daily infilling of God’s Holy Spirit.
The most valuable and available service for pathological gamblers is Gamblers Anonymous. GA requires complete acceptance of what is termed “The Six Basic Truths” concerning the nature of gambling addiction: “1) Gambling is a progressive illness. 2) It always gets worse, but never better 3) It can only be arrested and may never be cured, regardless of the length of abstinence. 4) It can only be arrested by total abstinence. 5) It is a baffling, insidious, compulsive addiction. 6) It can very easily lead to demoralization, insanity and death.”
The Family’s Role
Just as the illness of compulsive gambling is progressive, so is the complexity of the spouse’s reactions. They too go through stages of awareness. Though they may at first enjoy the excitement of the gambling scene with its fantasies of winning and dreams of luxury, eventually losing starts to change their standard of living. Later they wake up to their loved one’s preoccupation with gambling and may become aware of serious financial problems. When all honest communication between family members deteriorates, the breaking point usually occurs. The family members of the compulsive gambler neglects the well-known axiom of “True love is not shown by what you are willing to DO for the loved one, but what you are willing NOT to do for the loved one.” Therefore, family members can be enablers, with parents especially being targeted for loans and financial bailouts.
Once a person realized that they are dealing with a compulsive gambler, it is important to resist the temptation to accept blame for his/her illness. The compulsive gambler cannot start recovering until he/she has hit bottom – that is, until they have accepted the fact that they are sick, not just unlucky.
Family members can get the courage to step aside and allow their gambler to “hit bottom,” with the aid of Overcomers Outreach meetings, along with the fellowship of GamAnon, which is the sister fellowship to Gamblers Anonymous, and can be located in most telephone books.
None of us need to be alone with our battle! Overcomers Outreach provides Christ-centered 12 Step support groups that become the backbone to our abstinence or codependency. Gamblers Anonymous and GamAnon have support group meetings throughout the world.
Help is as close as your telephone book. Your road to recovery can start today!
Overcomers Outreach – Christ-centered 12 Step support groups for addicted persons and family members (located all over the U.S. and some other countries as well). 1-800-310-3001.
Gamblers Anonymous – 12 Step support groups for the compulsive gambler – 213-386-8789
GamAnon – 12 Step support groups for the family and friends of a compulsive gambler-718-352-1671