The Powerball jackpot was over 500 million this week. In case you missed it, last night’s numbers were for the second-highest jackpot in U.S. lottery history: 5, 16, 22, 23, and 29 with a Powerball number of 6. According to Powerball officials, not one, but two tickets matched all six numbers to win the whopping $587.5 million dollar jackpot (even I felt like a winner – but 7 bucks won’t go far).
The record Powerball jackpot had tickets selling at a rate of 130,000 every minute until the clock ran out on legal sales at 8 pm (Iowa) on Wednesday night. By ten o’ clock, there were two new multimillionaires for the record books. One ticket for one lottery on one history making night would not scare a psychologist if that was the first ticket you bought (or someone gifted to you – as was the case for my lucky seven) in about a decade with no previous addiction. But gambling is a real game changer in the lives of some who cannot resist the urge to risk the odds.
What is Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction, called compulsive gambling, progresses over time and worsens. According to Dr. Jeff Gardere PhD, Clinical Psychologist and NBC Today Show Contributor, “Compulsive gambling is a behavioral addiction called an, ‘impulse control disorder.’ In other words, people who have a gambling problem can’t control their impulse or urge to gamble even when they know that their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones… Gambling addiction is a real disease that requires real intervention and treatment; however, the good news is that recovery is possible.”
According to a U.S. study, around 2.5 million adults suffer from compulsive gambling (also called pathological gambling); 15 million more are at risk of developing the disorder. Gamblers may bet on sports, buy lotto tickets, play poker, slot machines, or roulette, or engage in other types of gambling activities. Venues may include casinos, home games, or (increasingly) online/Internet gambling sites. A higher number of men are gambling addicts, but the population of women compulsive gamblers is on the rise. Statistics show that the disorder also progresses more rapidly in women than in men, though women tend to get a late start while men typically begin gambling in their teens.
Up to 70% of people suffering from pathological gambling disorder also suffer from another psychiatric disorder. Risk factors for developing pathological gambling include schizophrenia, mood problems, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol or cocaine addiction. Sufferers tend to be novelty seekers. Individuals with low levels of serotonin in the brain are also thought to have a higher risk of developing pathological gambling as compared to others.
Resources for Compulsive Gambling Sufferers
Gamblers’ Anonymous (GA) is a treatment option for compulsive gamblers. Participation in GA combined with psychotherapy tends to improve the approximate 8% one-year abstinence rate that typically results from intervention.
Medications that have proven successful in treating compulsive gambling have decreased either the urge to gamble or the thrill involved in doing so. These medications include antiseizure medications like carbamazepine (Tegretol) and topiramate (Topamax), mood stabilizers like lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), medications used to address addictions like naltrexone (ReVia), antidepressants like clomipramine (Anafranil) and fluvoxamine (Luvox).
The most effective treatment appears to be psychotherapy. Financial/debt counseling and self-help interventions may also play an important role in the treatment plan for individuals with gambling addiction.
If You’re Going to Play, Learn How to Win
If responsible people do play the lotto, maybe they should be responsible players. Such a player would learn about winning and losing, instead of just knowing how to play the game. The lure of big bucks often reels in even the non-typical gambler for that “one ticket.” But what if that ticket wins? Just because one goes from – we’ll say towels instead of rags – to riches, doesn’t mean one knows what to do with all that cash. Many an instant millionaire has gone bust in just a few years from mismanagement of super funds. A former waitress was forced to pay a $1,119,347.90 tax bill when she placed her winnings in a corporation and granted her family 51 percent of the stock—qualifying her for the tax. One obviously seasoned (addicted) gambler won the lottery twice, to the tune of $5.4 million, and … you guessed it, gambled it all away.
So how does one learn to win?
Enroll in a gambling education course – Even if you know that you do not have a gambling addiction, learn to recognize the warning signs so that you do not become a statistic.
Take a financial management class – Be sure you know how to manage more than a few hundred dollars on the side. Learn about investments, savings and retirement plans. If you do win the lottery, you will be educated about your options and more likely to make your winnings last.
Make an “I won” plan – Make a “smart” list of the things you will “need” to do if you win – things that are often forgotten in the whirlwind of the moment (not things like buy a new sofa – you won’t likely forget about that). Write down things like: make a living will, open a TCD (time certificate of deposit – or some other kind of investment tool), review some real estate, give a tithe… These are rational decisions that you might need to be reminded of when you are overwhelmed by media coverage and the fact that you won. Consult a financial planner about what things should be included on that list (you could find such a list online. You do not have to spend a fortune before you get one).
See a therapist – Money has driven plenty of people to madness without wealth coming into being all of a sudden. Drastic lifestyle changes can be stressful for you and the people around you. There is no need to wait until you start feeling overwhelmed to get some counseling. Seeing a therapist to help you manage stress does mean that you are incapacitated. You will be practicing prevention. If you do start to feel overwhelmed, you will already be in conversation with someone who can help, which is more likely to lead to stress relief than taking drastic (probably negative) actions. And if you should lose more money than you planned, you may need an objective person to help you work through a host of new issues.
Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne MD. “Gambling Addiction (Compulsive or Pathological Gambling).” MedicineNet.com. Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/gambling_addiction/article.htm 25 November 2012
Krasny, Jill. “14 Lottery Winners Who Blew it All.” Business Insider. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/14-lottery-winners-who-blew-it-all-2012-3… 29 November 2012