Written by Leslie Sweeney, Ready and Resilient-Integrator, IMCOM HQ
In a recent update to Army Regulation 600-85, IMCOM and the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) are tasked to provide information to Soldiers and Civilians regarding problematic gambling. Not all gambling is problematic but when it is, it can negatively impact readiness.
Gambling problems can have severe personal consequences, including financial hardship, relationship/emotional difficulties, social impacts, and legal problems. They can also have significant impacts on families and communities. Gambling is available through many means such as video gaming, sports betting and lotteries. Legal gambling is available in many locations and is never farther away than a touch screen.
COVID-19 can increase stressors in lives as demonstrated by other quarantine situations. Fears, boredom, frustration, insufficient supplies, inadequate information and financial loss can leave people looking for an outlet like online gambling.
With ample opportunities to gamble, it is easy to understand that problematic gambling is on the rise. Public Law 114-92 included a provision for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review gambling among members of the armed forces. The GAO report determined that preoccupation with gambling can cause financial hardship and increases individual risk to include an elevated risk of suicidal behaviors.
The close association of gambling disorder and substance abuse has resulted in this expanded ASAP mission requirement. ASAP is the long-standing prevention expert at garrison to deliver substance abuse awareness training that will now include problematic gambling prevention training.
“Problem gambling is a very real problem in our society and critical Army readiness issue that cannot be overlooked,” said Pamela Budda, R2/ASAP Chief at IMCOM headquarters. “Training provided by the IMCOM ASAP brings awareness that this behavior can be changed.”
Gambling disorder similarities to substance abuse include the state of euphoria resulting from engagement in the behavior. The behavior, at least early in the course of the chronic condition, is pleasurable and done for purposes of reward. Preoccupation and loss of control occur at times when engaging in the behavior. Tolerance and cravings develop with repeated engagement. These similarities underscore the importance that must be placed on the prevention of problematic gambling to support readiness.
Problem gambling signs include: increasing preoccupation with gambling; a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses and loss of control. Problematic gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family problems or even suicide.
The financial well-being of our military community is a significant readiness contributor. Why is it so important to build military financial readiness? Recent research indicates that military personnel face financial challenges even greater than their civilian counterparts. Military financial counselors and consultants are working toward supporting soldiers with financial readiness. Financial readiness can be critically impacted by problematic gambling and financial woes are a suicide risk factor.
Another suicide risk factor is relationship disputes that can be amplified by problematic gambling. Gambling can affect partner relationships and relationships with children, extended family, friends and work colleagues. As problematic gambling increases family tensions, gambling losses and other problems can lead to violence against family members as a result of stress, anger and financial crisis within the home.
More than a family’s financial health is at stake when problems resulting from gambling arise. The disclosure or discovery of the extent of gambling losses is often sudden and devastating. This in turn takes a toll on the emotional and physical health of both gambler and spouse. In desperation, some problem gamblers resort to crimes such as forgery, fraud, theft, and embezzlement. Children of those with gambling problems are at increased risk of depression, behavioral problems and gambling problems.
Younger populations are becoming more susceptible to problem gambling behaviors and the research indicates that this is jeopardizing their goals and creating additional stress. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse are often associated with serious gambling issues.
Finally, dealing with the secrecy and shame of gambling problems can increase stress and isolate the gambler and family from outside support. Multiple programs exist to support the Army family when struggling with problematic gambling and provide information regarding the important signs that can help in avoiding long-term consequences. That’s why it’s important to seek to address these issues at their onset.
Garrison ASAPs will be providing training on facts and risks associated with problematic gambling in an effort to prevent high risk behaviors. At some locations, the training is offered through virtual means to ensure safety in the COVID-19 environment. Signs that indicate a gambling problem will be emphasized as well as where you can find support for problematic gambling and financial issues. This new initiative ensures the total Army Family is supported and encouraged to make low risk choices and remain mentally and spiritually healthy, ready and resilient.
For further information regarding problematic gambling or to schedule training contact your local ASAP.
Contact your local Behavioral Health for support, for Civilians and Family Members contact the local ASAP Employee Assistance Program
NATIONAL PROBLEM GAMBLING HELPLINE 1-800-522-4700
Help is also available via an online peer support forum at www.gamtalk.org