The pandemic seems to be heating up gambling addiction

Medical Watch

The pandemic is driving new addictions.

Alcohol sales are up more than 60 percent. Opiod overdoses have skyrocketed. And since the casino doors opened after quarantine, a record number of gamblers are rolling the dice on their future. And many are now picking up the phone to say, “I need help.”

As people belly up to craps tables and throw their cards on the table, no matter what financial windfall a day may bring, in the long run, experts say the cost is great.

Anita Pindiur is the executive director of Way Back Inn.

“Anybody can get caught up in this and you don’t know when it will go from just fun to a disorder,” she said. “But gambling or any other form of that entertainment should never be seen as a financial future.”

It something Luke knows all too well. He estimates he’s lost tens of thousands of dollars.

“I found myself spending more and more time gambling,” he said. “More and more time trying to find ways to get money with which to gamble.”

He recalls it all started so innocently.

“Probably the first time I gambled was when I was very young playing cards with family,” he said. “I just thought it was exciting. It was something that made me feel good that I thought was fun.”

But the fun with family and friends changed to days alone at the casino.

“I like to play blackjack and poker but I think the game I really truly loved was playing craps,” Luke said. “I don’t think anyone really knew the true depths of my gambling addiction. … I definitely think it did affect my career, my gambling addiction.”

So luke made it his job to get help. He turned to the Way Back Inn and their exclusion program.

“And I thought if I would exclude myself from the casino, I wouldn’t be able to go without getting arrested. So that would be a barrier for me,” he said. “I banned myself in Illinois. That didn’t stop me from going to Indiana. I banned myself in Indiana, didn’t stop me from going to Wisconsin or Michigan. … As compulsive gamblers we’ll go to any lengths to find a way to gamble.”

Then came the soul searching and the desire for change. Soon Luke was enjoying long walks and the peaceful days free from the thrill of gambling.

“I try not to live in the highs because if you have the highs, you have the lows,” he said. “So I try to maintain a balance now.”

But pandemic and quarantine threw the balance of life off for so many. While they were home, addictions didn’t shut down. The stress of the disorder spread like a virus.

“During the pandemic with the shut down … the assumption was no one can gamble, so it’s all good. It’s all solved,” Pindiur said. “What we saw is changes in peoples moods. There was a steep increase in domestic violence. We’ve seen a steep increase in suicides.”

Therapists and survivors say more lives can be saved. it’s about walking away from the table and heading toward help.

“When you start noticing that it becomes an obsession, almost where it’s day-to-day,” Pindiur said. “Where all you can think is about your next time of gambling, when it starts taking over.”

“When I first entered recovery, I had a void in my life becasue I couldn’t get that rush from gambling and I knew it was bad for me,” Luke said. “It’s a process. I am always going to be a compulsive gambler. I am always going to be a gambling addict. But if continue to better myself through my journey to recovery I won’t have to worry about it because I am doing all I can to arrest the disease.”

If you or someone you know needs help with a gambling addiction, reach out to the following numbers:

1-800-GAMBLER

1-833-DONTBET

And visit Waybackinn.org

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