Help is available for gambling addiction

Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, counselling can help with gambling addiction

Editor’s note: Following is the last in a series in recognition of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week.

With a successful career in financial services and marketing and good personal planning, Carrie (not her real name) was looking forward to retirement.

“I had been to Las Vegas in the 1970s with a friend when we were in our 20s. It was an exciting trip and we gambled but there was no gambling in Canada then so we didn’t think about it when we got back,” she said. “About 14 years ago, I went to Las Vegas again with a friend and that was the first time I enjoyed gambling to the extent that I didn’t want to leave it, which surprised me. When we came back, I started going to the casino here. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even go with friends, I didn’t want anyone to interfere with my gambling. “Then I won a considerable amount and that really set me off to keep going back. I’d win a little more and then think I was on a lucky streak and go back and lose a lot more than I had ever won, sometimes up to $1,000 a week. I went through all the money I could get, my bank accounts, loans from loan companies, even my RRSPs. That was big trouble. I had to declare bankruptcy.”

Carrie kept gambling, borrowing money from family and friends, making up stories about what she was going to do with the money.

“That shocked me. I have always been a very honest person. I can’t believe I would do something like that, it’s just not me. My family was getting worried about me and I did try counseling for a few times but I think I didn’t want to quit then. I can’t believe how bad it got.

“It was out of my control and the sad thing is that it happened so late in my life. I never made big money but I could manage money and I had an excellent credit rating. The gambling is a disease.”

Carrie started to see Janice Mercredi, registered clinical counsellor/consultant who provides responsible and problem gambling support services. They meet one-on-one, with the counselor helping people to determine where they are on the continuum of responsible and problem gambling and to set personal goals, including whether they would like to cut back on gambling or stop altogether. Clients also learn to identify their gambling triggers and ways to manage their urges. They learn about gambling and the choices they have, including self exclusion from casinos.

“Things are changing for me now,” said Carrie. “I like the place I’m coming to and I like Janice. It’s comfortable and safe and I feel really supported. I can talk about whatever I’m anxious about and get different ideas and a different way to look at things.

“When I was first into recovery, I wasn’t sure I wanted to quit gambling but I was forced into it by  circumstances. I would have been on the street and I’m not accustomed to that way of life. Now that I’ve calmed down and recovered my intelligence, I know that it’s not the way to live, that you’re killing yourself.

Carrie is not gambling at all now and lives from pay cheque to pay cheque, often with less than $20 left for groceries and other needs when she has paid her basic expenses and made repayments on her loans. She is also determined to repay every dollar she got from friends, even though it is going to take years to do so.

She has made a money-management plan that allows her access to her debit card only on paydays. She makes the necessary payments then does not have the card again until the next payday.

“I don’t want to gamble at all. It’s not necessary to anyone’s life. It’s a horrible disease when it happens to you and it affects your family and friends. It has affected my retirement and I know that I will be low income. But you can’t quit without help. Right now, I’m trying to stay calm and peaceful.

“People might feel like they want to hide but they are not hiding. I hope that what I’ve said makes sense to people who have this disease and that they will get help.”

For more information call 1-888-795-6111.