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How Prevalent is Problem Gambling Among Veterans and How to Help Them?

People from all walks of life may struggle with gambling addiction. Yet, higher rates are more common among military veterans, raising questions about why and how to address this problem.

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A 2020 report on Gambling Problems in U.S. Military Veterans found that U.S. military veterans are a high-risk population vulnerable to developing problem gambling. In fact, this issue is much more present among them compared with civilian populations.

The same report discovered that many veterans with gambling addiction also struggle with substance abuse, trauma-related conditions, and suicidality. That often complicates and slows down recovery.

For instance, 40 percent of veterans seeking treatment for problem gambling report a suicide attempt. Moreover, this vulnerable group tends to have a history of emotional, physical, and sexual trauma.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services found around 56,000 active duty U.S. Service Members may have a gambling problem.

Why is gambling addiction widespread among veterans, and what can be done about it?

Why Veterans Start Gambling?

Although the motivation to start gambling varies depending on each individual, military veterans often begin because it's a way to relieve stress or boredom. Some use it to feel better when going through challenging moments or because they enjoy the risk.

In many cases, veterans resort to gambling for escapism. However, not enough studies on this topic exist to confirm whether betting serves as a way to avoid confronting trauma and emotional or physical pain.

Since veterans aren't the only ones who engage in gambling to suppress distressful memories and numb emotions, it's impossible to say if that's the main trigger. But concerning that this group has a disproportionately high rate of mental health challenges, betting as entertaining avoidance could be the most common cause.

The Connection Between Problem Gambling and Mental Health Issues Among Veterans

The deployment stress and the specific culture surrounding the military offer both protective and risk factors related to gambling and substance abuse. For instance, zero-tolerance policies typically discourage activities that could harm military personnel's careers.

Yet, reintegrating into daily life after deployment brings various environmental stressors, which could push veterans toward drug use or betting. Many veterans presenting for first-time care within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system struggle with mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. These are among the most common trigger factors associated with problem gambling. Moreover, over 10 percent of mental health treatment-seeking veterans reported a lifetime history of gambling disorder.

Another common factor is that this group lacks support and accessible resources when trying to get help. That is often enough to push vulnerable people into an addiction or keep them addicted.

Veterans may turn to gambling as a form of self-medication to cope with their service's emotional and psychological scars. The resulting excitement and escapism can temporarily relieve mental health conditions symptoms.

Underlying psychological conditions and disorders can also drive compulsive behaviors. That can make it very difficult for veterans to seek help or control their gambling.

Insufficient Support and Mental Health Disorders Can Fuel Gambling

Struggling with mental health issues, especially PTSD, can lead to self-destructive behaviors like problem gambling. The odds of resorting to potentially addictive activities increase when a person has no support for their condition.

It doesn't help that some veterans experience social isolation and a sense of disconnection from civilian life. Gambling often arises as a mechanism to cope with loneliness, apathy, or boredom.

But the transition to life after deployment isn't only challenging in a social context. It can also be financially demanding, which can push veterans to try their luck with gambling. That can exacerbate their economic situation, leading to crises and additional stressors. Some veterans continue risking and chasing wins, while others find themselves addicted to the thrills and excitement.

In that situation, mental health issues and problem gambling often reinforce one another, creating a wicked cycle. Despite facing significant barriers to treatment, there are effective model programs for veterans struggling with problem gambling.

Model Programs for Veterans with Problem Gambling

After recognizing the urgent need to address problem gambling among veterans, various organizations and treatment centers have developed model programs for prevention, intervention, and support. Some of these initiatives include:

Veterans Gambling Addiction Hotline

Several states have established dedicated helplines for veterans struggling with gambling addiction. These hotlines provide immediate assistance and referrals to specialized treatment programs.

V.A. Gambling Counseling and Treatment Services

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) offers gambling addiction counseling and treatment services at many medical centers. These services aim to address the specific needs of veterans, often coupled with mental health care.

Peer Support Programs

Some organizations have implemented peer support programs where veterans in recovery from problem gambling mentor and support their peers. Peer support can be particularly effective because it fosters a sense of camaraderie and understanding among veterans. Some

Community-Based Interventions

Local communities and non-profit organizations have developed gambling awareness campaigns tailored to veterans. These campaigns aim to increase awareness about the gambling addiction risks and offer resources for support and treatment.

Online Resources

The expansion of online resources, including websites and mobile apps, has made it easier for veterans to access self-help tools, information about treatment options, and support groups.

Problem Gambling Among Veterans Requires More Awareness and Support

Unlike drug and alcohol abuse, gambling addiction among veterans gets much less exposure and awareness. Fewer voices advocate for treatment for problem gambling, yet it's just as urgent as other types of addictions.

Compulsive betting is often even more sinister due to one curious characteristic - the chase. Gamblers feel that no matter how deep the hole is, they can somehow win back everything they lost.

Lack of awareness and support also intensifies social isolation and mental health issues veterans often struggle with. Sixty percent of veterans with PTSD are more likely to have a gambling problem, and depression and suicidal ideation are also more common among them.

Undoubtedly, this topic requires more attention and accessible support and resources. But more model programs are now available, allowing veterans to take their first step toward recovery.

Contact us for more information on problem gambling treatment for military veterans or feel free to use this problem gambling treatment locator.

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