The Hidden Addiction Among Veterans and Active Duty Members

November, particularly the 11th, is dedicated to commemorating the men and women who have served in the U.S. Military.  As a country, we strive to honor and protect these individuals after returning to civilian life.  While there are many mental health and addiction resources available throughout the nation, one issue usually remains hidden.  Problem gambling, or any time gambling causes financial, vocational, mental, or interpersonal problems in one’s life, is an issue that affects roughly two million Americans.  However, Veterans have elevated rates of problem gambling—at least twice the rate as the general adult population (Westermeyer et al., 2013). Additionally, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that as many as 56,000 active duty members of the Armed Forces meet the criteria for Gambling Disorder.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, a diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year:

  1. Need to gamble with increasing amount of money to achieve the desired excitement
  2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
  4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money to gamble)
  5. Often gambling when feeling distressed
  6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activity
  8. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
  9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

Compared to the national population, problem gambling may not seem like a priority.  However, problem gambling can impact up to 55% of the population.  It is estimated that each individual struggling with problem gambling can impact up to 10 additional people. On top of that, problem gambling has the highest suicide rate among all addictions.  “About 50% of those with disordered gambling have had suicidal thoughts. Over 17% of these individuals have attempted suicide,” (Moghaddam et al., 2015).  Problem gambling is also extremely underreported and low screening rates, especially in the military, remain a barrier.  Some initial screening tools that are available include the “Lie Bet” and the “Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen” which provide basic questions on gambling habits.

What can we do to better assist veterans and active duty members who might have a gambling problem?

  • Increase Screenings for Problem Gambling during routine visits and follow up
  • Complete screenings after deployment and before reenlisting
  • Offer education and information about gambling related harms
  • Provide a safe space to discuss need for support
  • Recommend alternatives to gambling on base and at program sites

If you or a loved one is struggling with problem gambling, contact the Western Problem Gambling Resource Center at (716) 833-4274 or email us directly at WesternPGRC@nyproblemgambling.org

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