NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - A former gambler calls it a battle that never ends. News 4 decided to take a closer look at the addiction that can take a lifetime to overcome.
We spoke with a man we'll call Ken. He admits he started playing the odds when he was 5-years-old. "We played cards at Christmas with the family, and it was just an Italian game that we made up called garbage." That innocent game became a gateway - a dangerous drug of sorts. "I'm going tell you the truth. When I was 15, I was doing $5,000 a week," Ken confessed.
He admits he had a major addiction. "I bet on anything and everything. There was no stopping me, and what I did I just totally justified…through my illness which we call compulsive gambling."
Ken likened gambling to alcohol and drug abuse. "They're all the same, but the only problem is we don't put anything into our body. We do it all in our mind," he told News 4.
The former addict says at the height of his gambling in the mid 70's he was betting $3,000 bet. That left him with only $76 dollars a week of take-home money. The mounting $36,000 gambling debt drove him into depression.
He recalled, "I had gone to a nurse at the plant where I was working because I couldn't get the money. I owed the bookees, and I just felt that my wife and kids would benefit better from me being dead, so I tried to commit suicide."
That was 1976. Now, Ken is helping others at a local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous or GA. "I do anything and everything I can for GA. I help as many people as I can and go to as many meetings as I can."
He said the temptation never leaves him. News 4 turned to Dr. Mary McConnell from Jewish Family Service for more insights into the addiction. "Well, they're certainly dealing with the rush. The rush is what's addicting, she explained.
McConnell is a gambling recovery counselor. "You get the same rush and excitement that the team members have out on the field. You get the same high and the same low whether they win or lose."
McConnell says on the weekend of a major sporting event, like the Super Bowl, lives and families can change forever. "It gets out of control because the adrenaline affects the way they think, so they're not totally rational when they're doing all this."
McConnell says many gamblers don't give up until they find themselves in a financial crisis. "You do have a secret life. How does a spouse compete with a horse or a slot machine? That's not fair competition."
We asked her for four warning signs. She says watch out for people who are:
-short on money
-failing to pay bills on time
-missing from the house
-and lying about where they are
"They have secret credit cards, and get post office boxes that they send the bills to and nobody knows about. They're very smart people," she concluded.
The road to recovery can be rough. "If they want to stop, they have to control their money. It takes money to gamble."
Ken says the GA program has helped him resist the constant temptation. "I know if i make a bet today, I'll be back where I was within a very short period of time.I'm talking hours and not days."
He knows he has one more bet left in him. He doesn't know if he has one more recovery and because of that he keeps fighting the urge.
If you know someone who has a gambling problem, you can refer them to Gamblers Anonymous. Call 1-888-GA-HELPS. You can also contact Jewish Family Service at (716) 883-1914.
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