By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian
“Once they get triggered into gambling, they are consumed with it,” Patty Deutsch, program director of the Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia (PGHN), said.
In the past 12 years, PGHN’s hotline, which provides individuals who have a gambling addiction help, has received about 1,800 calls from West Virginia residents 55 years or older who are searching for help about their gambling problem.
“We get calls from all ages, but we’re starting to see a growing influx of calls from senior citizens,”
Deutsch said there are several reason to why senior citizens are turning to gambling and becoming addicted. Some of these reasons include loneliness, boredom and even illness.
She added that other influences like a loss of a spouse, disconnect from their families and retirement can also lead to a gambling addiction.
“Those are the triggers for seniors,” Deutsch said.
When senior citizens have a gambling addiction, Deutsch said it causes a lot more harm. With younger individuals addicted to gambling, Deutsch said there’s a greater chance of them getting the money they gambled away back.
“When seniors go into a casino with their nest egg and gamble, they don’t have a way to make that money back,” she said. “Someone who is 60, 65, 70 years old, they can’t rebuild a retirement.”
One type Deutsch said is common among senior citizens is being an escape gambler
“When (seniors) are physically not well and they do something that’s mindless, they’re an escape gambler,” she said. “When they go to these Hot Spots or casinos, then they are temporarily not connected to that pain or that loneliness.”
Deutsch said once seniors know it’s a way to disconnect from the pain or loneliness, they gamble more often, and eventually it turns into an addiction.
“What happens is the brain triggers the dopamine and the serotonin and they get hooked,” she said.
For other senior citizens, Deutsch said going to casinos or local gambling bars becomes a social activity. She said it becomes one of the activities they can do.
“At a casino, they don’t have to walk,” Deutsch said. “A bus can drop them off, and they go in and sit in front of a machine.”
A gambling addiction in senior citizens can have several negatives effects. Deutsch said gambling addicts have the highest suicide rate of any addictions. The addiction can also lead to depression.
About a third of the the individuals over 55 who call PGHN tell counselors that they are depressed
Deutsch said over the years, PGHN has found that when younger individuals gamble it’s because their family gambles. She said for some people it becomes a family event, and someone could possibly start their gambling addiction that way.
“What we’ve identified with people who start these addictive behaviors young in life, they usually develop a stronger addiction,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch said online gambling may increase not only a gambling addiction in those 55 years or older but also individuals who are younger.
“This is a problem that might expand as time goes on,” she said. “Certain states are allowing people to legally gamble online, and as we move into those kind of realms, we’re going to start to see a lot of people with a lot of issues.”
Deutsch said when an addict calls PGHN’s hotline, counselors talk to them in a conversational manner.
“We show compassion for them because it is a disease,” she said.
Deutsch said not every caller they get is an addict. Sometimes family members or friends of an addict will call wanting to help their loved one.
“In that case, we will send that individual resources about what they can do to help their loved one,” she said.
Those who are addicted to gambling or know someone who is addicted and want help can call the PGHN at 1-800-GAMBLER (426-2537).
Email Emily Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.