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Recognizing Disordered Gambling in Our Veterans

On November 11th, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ), along with the rest of the nation, observed Veterans Day. Every year, we proudly honor the people that risked everything for us. Members of the United States Armed Forces put both their mental and physical health on the line to protect our country.

As veterans retire from active service, it is important to remember that assimilating back into civilian life sometimes present major obstacles for them. For veterans, a disordered relationship with gambling (like illegal sports betting in Atlantic City) may very well represent one of these obstacles – just to provide one example. When compared to the general population, veterans are two to four times more likely to experience difficulties with problem gambling. Young or female former military service members are especially at risk.

A number of factors make veterans especially vulnerable to disordered gambling:

Stress and Anxiety

Combat situations place a great amount of stress on combatants. However, even the rigors of day-to-day service can place tremendous pressure on members of the military. These experiences can sometimes affect veterans for the rest of their lives. Gambling can provide people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other psychological consequences of military service with a welcome source of escape or distraction – that is, until it starts to interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Adrenaline

Combatants experience intense surges of adrenaline during battle. Although combat is a harrowing experience, those surges of adrenaline produce strong feelings or sensations akin to the thrills people experience in extreme sports or even drug use.

Activities involving gambling induce the production of stress hormone in much the same fashion. In some cases, veterans struggling with their return to civilian life turn to gambling in an attempt to reproduce the intensity they felt during their service.

Depression

Unsurprisingly, a large number of veterans struggle with depression. Painful memories, devastating losses, feelings of regret – all of these contribute to the likelihood of developing depression, and veterans often experience all of them at the same time. The previously mentioned dopamine rush provided by gambling can serve as a temporary reprieve from these feelings.

“As our friends and family return from military service, we must be mindful of their experiences,” says Neva Pryor, Executive Director of the CCGNJ. “We must support them any way we can. Recognizing the signs of disordered gambling can be of great help as they readjust to civilian life.”

For support, treatment of illegal gambling for sports in Monmouth, NJ, or any other problem gambling behavior, and hope, contact the CCGNJ’s gambling help hotline at 1-800-GAMBLER.