specialization in addiction: a person-centered approachIt has been estimated that upwards of two percent of service members struggle with gambling issues. Two percent may not sound like much. However, when you consider that the military has about 2.5 million people on the rolls, that adds up to tens of thousands of troops whose daily lives are impacted by this particular addiction. If you factor in spouses, children, parents, siblings and other loved ones, the number of people affected by gambling is huge. Indeed, gambling does not occur in a vacuum.

Gambling is typically not an isolated condition. A major issue for military gamblers is the severe depression that often occurs along with it. Prior research on service members seeking treatment at military gambling treatment facilities found that between 20 and 50 percent had seriously considered suicide or had attempted suicide because of problems that arose because of their gambling. Often, the depression that accompanies a gambling problem is linked to work and relationship stress, feelings of hopelessness and financial strain.  Anxiety also closely follows.  The life disruption that follows gambling addiction often leads to chronic worry and stress as a well as panic attacks and substance use disorders.

The military views gambling as an addiction much like alcoholism and drug dependence. The official website of Gambler’s Anonymous provides 20 questions for individuals to determine if they might have a gambling problem. The general guidance is that people with serious gambling problems will say yes to seven or more of the following questions.

If you believe your veteran client may be struggling with a gambling addiction, the first step is to have him or her answer the questions below. This process is the first step to helping them get the assistance they need.

Questions to Ask

Did you ever lose time from work or school because of gambling?

Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

Did gambling affect your reputation?

Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?

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Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?

After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?

After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?

Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?

Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?

Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?

Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?

Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?

Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?

Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?

Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?

Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?

Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

Again, as noted above, if you think that one of your veteran clients has a gambling problem, it is important to get them the help they need. Unlike formal programs for alcohol or drug problems, gambling programs are more difficult to find on military installations. In fact, they are more difficult to find for all types of clients.  However, your local mental health clinic or chaplain at your local base or post can assist you in finding help for those patients who are on active duty and the VA can help with veterans  You can also find national and state gambling hotline numbers on the Gambler’s Anonymous website.

*A previous version of this article was published in Dr. Moore’s column Kevlar for the Mind, which is published in Military times.