Gambling Addiction Suicide
Suicide, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation is common among compulsive gamblers. By the time the devastation of the disease reaches the tipping point in a pathological gambler’s life they face grave financial problems, their families and relationships are in ruin, self-esteem has been decimated and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness is pervasive. Generally, by the time an addicted gambler “reaches bottom,” every aspect of their life has been destroyed. Suicide is all too common in those afflicted with the disease of compulsive gambling.
I would argue that the “bottom” for a compulsive gambler is much lower than that of other addicts. Why? Compulsive gambling does not physically impair the addict. We don’t fall down, slur our words, pass out or exhibit other outwardly visible warning signs. Our livers don’t give out and our kidneys don’t fail. Compulsive gamblers stop gambling when our resources run out. Period. There are no more stashes of cash, no more credit card cash advances to be had, no more loans from friends and family and no household funds to reallocate to feed our addiction. By the time a compulsive gambler reaches bottom they have several choices; reach out for help through Gambler’s Anonymous, faith-based groups and therapy, face a life of desperation on government subsidies or on the streets and, all too often,addicted gamblers see suicide as the only way out.
I frequently hear from mental health practitioners that problem gamblers have the highest suicide of any addicted group. I believe this to be more an anecdotal statement than a quantifiable one, for several reasons. 1) The body of scientific study on compulsive gambling is quite limited. 2) Most studies that do exist are funded by gaming industry-related entities thus there exists at least the possibility of bias in studies or at the very least funding can be targeted to studies that don’t encompass studies as offensive as suicide rates and 3) Most gambling-related deaths don’t indicate “pathological gambling” on the death certificate as the cause of death. A drug overdose, a car crashing into a brick wall would not necessarily be listed as a suicide. A self-inflicted firearms incident would of course be labeled a suicide, but the likelihood of an indication of a “gambling related suicide” as the cause of death is highly improbable.
From an “in the trenches view” I can tell you that my experience is that suicidal thoughts are commonplace. Last year, while sitting in a break room at a Gamblers Anonymous convention, the conversation turned to suicide. Quite candidly five of us discussed whether or not we had attempted or considered suicide. THREE out of FIVE said they had! And..frankly…we weren’t freaked out about this. We could have been talking about a recent news story or a movie we’d all seen. Suicide and discussion of suicide is common in our groups. Gamblers anonymous includes the question “Have you ever attempted or considered self-destruction as a result of your gambling?” as one of the screening questions for Compulsive Gambling diagnosis. I would venture to guess that at any GA meeting, 40% of the room would answer YES to this question.
My sister Lanie died as a result of an overdose of Paxil due to her secret and devastating gambling addiction. Do I believe it was a suicide? In my heart of hearts …No. I think she was sad, depressed, ashamed and simply didn’t want to feel the emotional pain and heartache her addiction had caused. Lanie’s death certificate reads “cerebral hemorrhage.” There is no mention of a gambling addiction in relation to the overdose and resultant Seretonin Syndrome and stroke that ultimately ended her life.
And here’s the REAL tragedy – pathological gamblers who DO seek treatment for suicidal ideation RARELY covered by medical insurance. I have first hand experience of this and similar stories are common within the rooms of Gamblers Anonymous. I once assisted in admitting a suicidal gambler to a local hospital for observation and mental health care. We were clearly informed by the hospital admissions representative that their insurance would have covered the hospitalization if they were an alcoholic or a drug addict with the same self-destructive thoughts. The admitting clerk’s words echo in my head to this day, “Any drug or alcohol problems? No? That’s too bad Hon’! Your insurance covers that!”
If you or someone you love has a gambling problem, please reach out for help! Life gets so much better! You can experience a gambling-free and happy life! Help is available 24/7 at the National Hotline 1-800-522-4700.