Gambling addition counselors in Missouri are noticing an increase in the number of clients from two distinctive groups: teenagers and senior citizens. With early intervention, teens have ample time to make up for their financial losses. When senior citizens gamble away their Social Security checks, retirement savings, or the house; there is little chance of them getting back into the work force to recoup any money. Often, the burden of bailing them out of trouble lands on their adult children.
Chair of the Missouri Council on Problem Gambling and gambling counselor, Keith Spare uses two questions to identify problem gamblers: Do you lie about your gambling? Do you spend more than you plan to?
Recovering addict Susan, who asked that her real name not be used in this story, answered "yes" to both of those queries before she got help.
"I mean, at first it is fun because you win now and then. And, you know, it's a pasttime and kind of a social thing really," Susan said, "even though the longer you get into it, the less social it becomes because you don't want anybody bothering you. You want everybody to go away."
Susan's story is an all too familiar one for people in her age group. She just turned 57.
"It's not about the money. Everybody thinks it's about the money and it's not," she said. "It's about getting away. It's escaping."
It was a similar scenario for 61-year-old Pete, who also asked to use a pseudonym.
"I was fine for 10, 15 years," he said, "and then other pressures come into it and escapism."
Pressures are one of the things Pete's counselor, Peter Gusman, says can make those nearing their retirement especially vulnerable to gambling additions.
"They find themselves being not so heavily involved with their family tree because their family is actually starting to build their own branch," Gusman said. "And so we are looking at a lot of time on their hands."
"Change is extremely scary to almost everybody," Spare added.
Spare says the age leading into retirement is one where change is inevitable, creating stressors that provide fertile ground for addiction.
"It's when suddenly a hole is created in your life and it needs to be filled by something," Spare said. "Whether it's the loss of the kids, they've all gone away and you've got an empty nest, whether it's the loss of a job, the loss of a spouse or the loss of your health. All of a sudden there's this feeling of need that has to be met, and that's a really dangerous time."
It is a dangerous time regardless of age. But the bottom line on financial assets is different later in life.
"The primary difference is that it's harder to make the money back when you are older," Spare said.
Consider Pete, who used to own a house, but is now renting one. He lost his home when he couldn't pay the second or third mortgage he obtained to feed his addiction.
"The worst possible scenario for you is to be married and for your wife to come home one day and find out you've not only lost the retirement fund but the college fund for the kids and the house is being repossessed, and it's really easy to do that when you're an addicted gambler," Spare said.
Pete says his wife and kids were oblivious to his problem, until he was in deep.
"We were a very secure family. Financially," Pete said. "I had worked very hard for a lot of years to get us there. My wife had worked very hard for a lot of years so it was, it was tough. But they've stood by me."
That kind of support is something Susan does not have.
"I'm still homeless," she said. "I'm staying at a shelter right now and I work."
So how do you spot the warning signs before it gets that far? Absence, evasion and a sudden unusual request to borrow money.
"Family members need to ask questions they've not asked before," Spare said. "'Where are you? Where did all your money go? Why do you need help with food at the end of the month?'"
"Really difficult questions to ask when you're the child?" KCTV5 reporter Betsy Webster said.
"And when you are the adult, they are even more difficult to be asked of," Spare replied.
"Our knee jerk reaction is to bail them out," Gusman added. "We don't ask because it's out parents. It's disrespectful to say, ‘Hey look, what do you need the money for?'"
But that is exactly what Pete's family did. Eventually, they convinced him that money was too much of a temptation. He went to the casinos and put himself on a self-exclusion list, essentially banning himself from entering them. He took his name off the joint bank account. His wife canceled the credit cards.
"The only money I get is what my wife gives me for spending money," Pete said. "It's a little bit dehumanizing but it's what I have to do. And if you are really an addict you have to do something similar."
It was only after he broke free from his addiction that Pete says he realized what he had been missing.
"This past Easter Sunday, beautiful weather wasn't it?" Pete said. "I got to totally enjoy the whole day with my family. If I had been gambling I would have found a way to have quote ‘been at work' or to have been called off to something,"
One key for the person making that transition out of parenting or out of work is to stay connected to something, whether it's a hobby, volunteering, joining a book club, or being a surrogate grandparent for the neighborhood kids.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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