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Gambling for the adrenaline rush

Bill discusses how some Veterans seek to recreate the adrenaline rush of combat by risking their money on gambling and by treating other gamblers as the enemy, instead of choosing the healthier option and reaching out for help in coping with the transition.

What does it mean to have a gambling problem?

Gambling is a problem when it negatively affects your finances, job, relationships with family or friends, or your health. Are you sometimes unable to pay the bills because you’ve spent your money on lottery or scratch tickets; card, slot, or dice games; sports betting; horse or dog races; or Internet gambling? When you lose money gambling, do you think that you need to bet more to win it all back? Have you tried to hide your gambling from family or friends? Is gambling the only thing you like doing, or do you spend most of your time thinking about ways to gamble?  A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be a sign of a gambling addiction.

Gambling is betting something of value on the outcome of an event when the likelihood of winning or losing is uncertain, such as who will win a football or baseball game, a game of cards, or a race. Although many people gamble occasionally, some people gamble even when it causes problems. They may want, need, or have tried to stop gambling but feel like they can’t. This is one of the warning signs of a gambling addiction.

“In between deployments my buddies and I would hit the casino. But we ended up losing our paychecks and so I had to start coming up with creative excuses why I didn’t have any money for my family.”

For some Veterans, gambling starts as entertainment, but then can become a major way to relieve stress or boredom or to feel better when going through a tough time. Some Veterans may gamble for its sense of risk and thrill. For other Veterans, gambling can be a distraction; a way to avoid coping with some of the other difficulties that may arise when transitioning from military to civilian life. One of the symptoms of an extreme gambling addiction is continuing to gamble even when you no longer find it enjoyable.

When gambling becomes a habit, it can cause problems with your job, relationships, and your mental or physical health. People who gamble compulsively, or who are addicted to gambling, may have financial issues or go into debt. They may try to find money to keep gambling by stealing from family, friends, or the workplace. The need to gamble and the stress of not being able to stop can be related to guilt, depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol or drugs problems, and health issues.

If I’m experiencing a gambling problem, what can I do about it right away?

“I think at first I loved gambling because of the adrenaline rush and the urge to beat those guys sitting across the table from me. But the thing is, I ended up losing to them and losing all my money, so I’d feel worse.” 

  • Write down a list of things—including people and places—that make you want to gamble, and how you can avoid them
  • Practice relaxation exercises such as deep breathing to help you manage stress
  • Make a list of reasons not to gamble that you can refer to when you feel the urge to gamble
  • Make a list of activities that you enjoy that you can do instead of gambling

People who are close to you may have already noticed you’re having a tough time, even if they are unaware of your gambling. You may want to talk to your family and friends about what you’re experiencing. They may be able to provide support and help you find solutions that are right for you.

Take the next step – Make the connection.

It can be difficult to handle gambling on your own. Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for the issues they face and find solutions that improve their lives. You can also consider connecting with:

  • Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
  • A spiritual or religious advisor
  • A gambling helpline

Explore these resources for more information about gambling problems in Veterans.

Learn more about the possible associations between gambling and other issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, and alcohol or drugs problems.

Problem Gambling Confidential Helpline Network
The National Council on Problem Gambling provides a toll free and confidential helpline throughout the U.S. for anyone seeking help with gambling behavior. Dial 1-800-522-4700.

Gamblers Anonymous
This website can help you find a local support group for people dealing with gambling problems. The nationwide toll free number for immediate help is 1-888-GA-HELPS.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.

Listen: Browse the video gallery to find stories most relevant to you. Locate: Find resources near you that can help get your life back on track.