How Gambling Can Kill You Faster Than Drug Abuse or Alcoholism
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Gamblers who have landed themselves in debt, then, are no longer simply chasing a high, they are trying to evade catastrophe—as Whyte puts it, “You’re always one bet away from winning everything back.” And, again, there is no limit to the amount of money that can be devoted to this pursuit. Unless the gambler just stops, which is unlikely without outside intervention, the problem becomes compounded with every attempt at a solution. It is the cruelest catch-22.
There was a story in the paper a few weeks ago about a Vietnamese gambling addict who, having been hounded by creditors, dug a hole beneath his kitchen and hid there for two months. There’s a certain symbolic resonance to this story. For people with this addiction, there is an overwhelming urge to vanish, to remove yourself from the world.
“There’s a sense of stigma and shame,” Whyte says. “A lot of people still don’t understand that you can be addicted to a behavior. People tend to view gambling as a moral failure.” So adept are gambling addicts at hiding this failure, the people around them are often blind to it until the bailiffs come knocking on the door.
As the problem progresses, pathological gamblers become insufferable, riddled with anxiety, anger and paranoia. They tend to be deceitful, manipulative and preoccupied, and always seem to have forgotten to bring their ATM card when they go out. People get fed up with it; it wears them down. And so the gambler eventually finds himself alone—which becomes especially true after the explosive revelation of his debts.
The gambler’s sense of isolation, says Whyte, is compounded by the “vast disparity of resources” devoted to treating the various forms of addiction. “A problem gambler can find it much harder to get help,” he says. “Some people don’t even know it’s treatable.” According to Volberg, fewer than 5% of problem gamblers enter into treatment. Left unchecked, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness proliferate. Very often, gamblers will come to the conclusion that there is only one way out. About 80% at least think about killing themselves.
We have no real way of knowing how many people follow through. Gamblers are, by nature, impulsive and secretive—the ones who leap from a multi-story parking deck after a bad night generally don’t leave suicide notes, while those who do tend to gloss over the reasons for their self-annihilation. Certainly, it’s unlikely that there has ever been an autopsy report that cited “gambling” as a cause of death. Which is not to say, of course, that it wasn’t.