Lottery tickets, bingo, mail order sweepstakes, slot
machines...Gambling...a little entertainment, harmless
For many, gambling is a fun activity, but for those who
become addicted to gambling, it is a devastating disease. Problem
Gambling is a hidden illness and it is even more so for the older
adult. Compulsive Gambling is a progressive disorder causing a
psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble.
Individuals eventually lose the ability to control the impulse to
gamble. This results in excessive gambling which can compromise,
disrupt or damage personal, family or employment pursuits. It is
recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an Impulse
Control Disorder. An estimated 5-7% of the population suffers from
Although there has been no National or State study done yet
on gambling among older adults, gambling Helpline counselors
throughout our nation report that gambling by senior citizens is on
the rise. In the past, gambling declined with age, but now more
seniors are able to gamble as the availability of gambling
Legalized gambling has expanded dramatically in recent
years. Corner quick-stop stations and grocery stores sell lottery
tickets. Casinos run specials with senior citizen discount coupons.
Bus trips are often free or at low cost and vouchers to gamble are
supplied by the company sponsoring the bus trip. Church raffles and
bingo help raise much -needed funding for church and school
programs. Magazine sweepstakes received in the mail offer the
chance to be a millionaire.
Older adults gamble for a variety of reasons. At a time when
there is often not a lot of excitement in an older person's life,
gambling allows a person to take some risk. Seniors may be lonely
or bored after the loss of a spouse or retirement. They may be
looking for a way to compensate for a limited retirement income or
just looking to be with peers as a social outlet.
For whatever reason seniors choose to gamble, many have
never gambled before or if they have, only in a limited way, and
most are totally unaware of any potential for adverse consequences.
Therefore, when they begin to encounter problems, they are often
confused about their own behavior and are embarrassed that they
cannot control the activity. They are reluctant to go for help
because they think at their age they should know better. They are
most often unaware of what pathological gambling is and have no
idea there is help available or where to get it.
Some older adults are gambling more than they should. They
are gambling funds needed for food and in some cases, medication.
Some are gambling away retirements, homes and sometimes even their
lives. When approached by adult children or friends, they are often
reluctant to discuss the problem and resent the intrusion with an
attitude of It's my money, I will spend it any way I
A gambling problem may remain invisible until the gambler's
life starts to fall apart. Symptoms of senior problem gambling may
include: changes in normal communication with family members,
frequent unexplained absences, repeatedly borrowing money, paying
bills late, frequent illness due to failure to buy needed
mediation, personality changes, neglecting finances and health,
avoids talking about or denies gambling.
Although compulsive gambling is a serious addiction and very
often can ruin people financially and emotionally, there is help
available. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem,
contact the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at
1-800-426-2535. The Helpline is answered 24-hours a
For more topics that interest the older adult, go to
the Coalition of
Wisconsin Aging Groups.
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The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling provides resources,
public awareness, and education on gambling disorders while
maintaining strict neutrality on the issue of legalized