Ripple effects of problem gambling reach beyond the individual with the gambling habit, just as it does with alcohol and drug addiction. When children are part of a problem gambler's life, those children almost always suffer from the effects of the adult's betting compulsion.
Marcie Carper, a certified Minnesota gambling treatment provider, explains how an adult's gambling problem can impact children. "When children have parents out there gambling, they can have some emotional needs, and neglect, with the parents being gone too much, and not always having food in the house," Carper says. "It can put a terrible strain on the family budget. It takes time away from the family. Maybe an older child ends up taking care of the household. The parents may say they'll just be gone for a little while, but when they're into compulsive gambling, people can stay at the casino or wherever they're gambling for many hours more than they think they'll be gone."
"When a person has an addiction, with gambling, or alcohol and drugs too, the primary thing they want to do is be in their addiction," Carper points out. "They stay away from the family more. When they have money, they spend it on gambling rather than on necessities. Economically it really becomes an abuse. Especially if there's not too high of an income. What should go for food and rent basically is gone, and they don't have what their kids need."
"But I do believe that the emotional neglect is what's important here. Like any addiction, they say: we're going to do something on Saturday, but then it doesn't happen because the gambler is gambling again-and that type of thing. They're just not there for the kids."
A certain percentage of college-age young people also develop gambling problems. "If kids see a lot of gambling, and our society has made a lot of gambling legal, kids into their teen years can see gambling as an okay things to do," Carper said. "They can go to the casino when they're 18, and they use that sometimes as a kind of rite-of-passage. Some kids even in middle school are starting to gamble already. Like making bets with their friends."
Problem gambling research is being done in Minnesota among college-age groups. Many young people are getting into gambling, including internet gambling, Carper noted. "We're looking at 3% of the population who can get caught up in the problem gambling. They'll use up their student loan money, or little bit of income for gambling, maybe."
Carper knows a young person who used up his inheritance money on gambling. "Within a few semesters he had gone through all the money," Carper says. "He skipped classes. He was either on the internet or at the casino."
Gamblers often develop legal problems also, Carper says. "When they need money most, gamblers will come up with whatever ways they can to gamble with."
The Minnesota Gambling Problems Resource Center offers help to those with gambling problems. This program is not against people gambling, Carper says. "Many people go have dinner and do a little gambling and that is not a problem. This is about people who have problems due to gambling or compulsive gambling."
Income eligible individuals can get free services from providers like Carper. The program offers assessments, treatment, and referrals to individuals with a gambling problem. Assistance is also available to family members of problem gamblers, as families typically have to deal with the ripple effects of problem gambling. Family members can get information on how to protect their assets, as well as ideas about how to talk to, or do an intervention with, the gambler.
"Gambling is not really about the money, but the addiction itself," Carper points out. "But they need the money to stay in action, so it becomes a money problem. Money is what makes a gambler or family know there's a really bad problem going on. They can become really sick people, always thinking the money will get them out of all their problems."
"We use a two-question screening tool for people," Carper said. One: have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money? And two: have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gamble?
A one-day gambling awareness conference is scheduled for March 6 at Lord of Life Church in Baxter. The conference is sponsored by the Northstar Gambling Alliance. It is open to the public, and to those who work with families, have connections to those who may need help, and others interested in compulsive gambling issues. Continuing education credits will be available.
For more information on the conference or help with problem gambling, contact Marcie Carper at 320.616.7079 or the Minnesota Gambling Treatment Provider Hotline at 1.800.333.HOPE or 612.424.8595. Information is available online at www.nojudgment.com.
Spotlight on Children's Mental Health is produced by the Crow Wing County Local Advisory Council on Children's Mental Health.\
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