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Compulsive Gambling

Gambling is now legalized in Virginia and South Carolina and a casino thrives in Cherokee.  It is logical that there is an increase in problem gambling.  Gambling is defined as any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or skill.  These games of chance include card games, horse betting or other sporting events, lotteries, bingo, roulette, slot machine and more sophisticated games such as “playing” the futures grain market or stock market.  These last two seem to be particularly attractive to professionals, including lawyers.

Obviously, most people who gamble do not develop a problem.  It is estimated, however, that 2% to 5% of the general population are compulsive gamblers, with the incidence higher in those states with access to legalized gambling.

Compulsive gambling is a progressive disorder in which the individual has a psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation with gambling.  The problem gambler becomes obsessed with an overwhelming urge to gamble and, without intervention, will continue down a path of destruction, similar to alcohol and drug addiction.  The primary symptoms are emotional dependence on gambling (dependency), loss of control, and continued interference with any of the major life areas, such as health, occupation, relationships, spirituality, legal and financial.

Compulsive gambling is characterized by three stages:

1) the search for action or winning phase;

2) the chase or losing phase;

3) the desperation phase.

The action-seeking phase is a way of life in which risk taking and thrill seeking are very important.  Gambling is both fun and exciting.  It is normal to have enough wins to offset the losses and enough “big wins” to convince the gambler of the potential for becoming rich through gambling.  But continued gambling leads to increased losses of both money and self-esteem.  To regain these, the gambler borrows money and bets on credit and then has to borrow more money to cover the new losses.  Despite the occasional big win, the reality is that the gambler is going to continue to lose in the long run.  The gambler begins to hide how much is being borrowed and lost and spends more time gambling in the chase to get even.

The gambling behavior intensifies as financial, personal and professional problems multiply.  The preoccupation with gambling begins to dominate the gambler’s life in a vain attempt to regain money and respect.  This downward progression can last for years resulting in extraordinary losses of productive time and money.  Unless treated, the gambling will reach the point where it compromises, disrupts and then destroys the gambler’s personal and professional life.  These problems further aggravate the gambling behavior.  This is the desperation phase as the problem gambler becomes obsessed with getting even and paying off debts.  The betting is often done with borrowed or stolen monies and may be triggered by a large loss and subsequent losses.

A vicious and destructive cycle is in place which leads to desperate acts of lying, stealing, bad checks, embezzlement, fraudulent loan applications, secret loans, falsified expense accounts, alcohol or other drug abuse, severe mood swings (including anxiety and/or depression), and contemplation of and attempts at suicide.  At some point all of the options run out except for suicide, running away, prison or getting help.

All addictive diseases operate in the same area of the brain.  Substance addictions and process addictions use different pathways, but a tendency to have one type of addiction may make us more susceptible to other addictions.  A recent study done at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addiction found problem drinkers 23 times more likely to have a gambling problem than individuals who do not have an alcohol problem.  This same study found that compulsive gambling is significantly higher among minorities and lower-income individuals.  Interestingly when persons from higher socioeconomic groups are compulsive gamblers, they are more likely than lower income persons to be alcohol dependent.

Many compulsive gamblers are unable to ask for help and it becomes up to family members and/or colleagues to take action to pierce the denial through an intervention.  As with any intervention, it works best when properly planned and conducted by a professional.  The North Carolina Lawyer Assistance Program can assist with such an intervention.



  1. Have you ever failed to show up at your law practice or court due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Has gambling affected your reputation, personally or professionally?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Do you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Has your gambling caused or contributed to a decrease in your motivation, ambition or competency as a lawyer?
  7. After losing, do you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win, do you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Do you often gamble until your last dollar is gone?
  10. Do you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Are you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  13. Has gambling made you careless with the welfare of yourself, your family or your practice?
  14. Do you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Has gambling ever caused you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Does stress create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Do you ever have any urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever consider self-destruction as a result of your gambling?

If you have answered yes to at least seven of these questions, you probably have a gambling problem.

– by Don Carroll

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