An estimated 1 percent to 2 percent of service members have a gambling problem. Considering the military has about 2.5 million people on the rolls, that adds up to tens of thousands of troops. And gambling problems don't occur in a vacuum — spouses, children, parents, siblings and others are affected by the service member's problem.
A major issue for military gamblers is the severe depression that often occurs in tandem. Research on service members seeking treatment at military gambling treatment sites found that 20 percent to 50 percent had seriously considered suicide or had attempted suicide due to problems that arose because of their gambling. Often, the depression that accompanies a gambling problem is linked to work and relationship stress, feelings of hopelessness and financial strain.
The military views gambling as an addiction much like alcoholism and drug dependence. The official website of Gambler's Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.com) provides 20 questions for individuals to determine if they might have a gambling problem. The general guidance is that people with serious gambling problems will say yes to seven or more of the following questions:
Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
If you think that you or someone close to you has a gambling problem, the first step is to ask for help. Unlike formal programs for alcohol or drug problems, gambling programs are more difficult to find on military installations. However, your local mental health clinic or chaplain can assist you in finding help. also, national and state gambling hotline numbers are on the GA website.
Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. Email him at email@example.com. This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.