Jeffrey* called Family & Children’s Services toward the end of a long losing streak that extended far beyond the casino tables. He lost his savings and retirement accounts to gambling addiction. He lost his wife, Cynthia, and his home. Jeffrey knew he needed to lose his addiction too, or he’d eventually lose his life.
Some people view gambling as a harmless diversion. After all, what’s a dollar here or there on the lottery, or a casual bet on an odds-on favorite? But for Jeffrey – and nearly 100,000 other Oklahomans – gambling is a dangerous addiction that can destroy lives.
Gambling addicts often become suicidal when they hit rock bottom. Carol McCoy, certified gambling counselor at Family & Children’s Services, said recovery has been a long and arduous task for Jeffrey, as it is for most gambling addicts.
“People’s brains aren’t working very well when I first see them,” explained McCoy. “At 90 days of gambling abstinence, there’s a definite change in the person and his thinking. But is he healed? No.”
Most people seeking treatment for gambling addiction suffer relapses. McCoy helps clients – mostly middle-aged people with steady employment – work through and learn from the setbacks. She recommends that recovering addicts permanently swear off all forms of gambling, even seemingly innocuous activities like buying a church raffle ticket or filling out a bracket for the March Madness office pool.
“It’s hard to do because gambling is all around us. Eighty-six percent of the U.S. population gambled last year,” McCoy said.
During therapy sessions, McCoy helped Jeffrey learn new ways to assess and respond to challenging situations in his life, identify triggers and understand his wife’s reactions. He followed McCoy’s advice about abstinence, going so far as to register himself on the banned-for-life list at casinos he’d visited during his gambling sprees. Not an easy task, given that Jeffrey had waged bets at gaming facilities in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and several other states while on the road for his job as a traveling salesman.
After a year, Jeffrey completed therapy. He continues to abstain from gambling, his finances are improving, and he reunited with his wife. Sounds like the start of a healthy and sustainable winning streak.
*name and image changed to protect client’s identity