"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)


Return to Topic List

Transcripts: 546.2 and 546.3

Week: 546.2 Guest: Arnie Wexler, Compulsive Gambling Counselor Topic: Compulsive Gambling, Part One of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Arnie Wexler is with us, to talk about a powerful problem... compulsive gambling. Arnie, tell me about your background...

WEXLER: Steve, I'm a recovering compulsive gambler...last time I placed a bet was April 10th, 1968. The fact is, I've been in recovery for almost 29 years, and I also run the Council on Compulsive Gambling in New Jersey. And I've been involved in compulsive gambling issues since 1970, publicly and privately. My wife ran a treatment center and two years ago, both of us left out jobs, and we now travel the country doing seminars and workshops.

NEMA: What is the end result of being a compulsive gambler...?

WEXLER: What happens at the end of the problem is the gambling controls you rather than you controlling the gambling. At that point, you need help...and that's probably the desperation phase. I don't think there's a gambler in America at this point, who's in the desperation phase, who's not doing something illegal to support their gambling addiction.

NEMA: What are the signs that someone is heading down that road?

WEXLER: Well, you know...when they start gambling, it becomes fun and they think they're going to make money from it, and usually they don't feel too good inside, and outside, they have a big ego...and inside they have low self-esteem. And what happens, they think that they're going to win money and feel better about themselves. What happens down the road is, it's not about winning or losing, it's just about being in action and getting the high from the being in action feeling. They'll be people with high levels of energy, unreasonable optimism, they're preoccupied with gambling, they'll usually have at least one bailout in their life...usually a few more bailouts...when somebody comes along and pays off gambling debts, they'll have personality changes when they're not gambling, they'll have remorse over losses, eventually they'll get into panic and illegal acts, and they'll have elation and depression based on the outcome of a bet early on....later on it's just about the gambling.

NEMA: Many of us are aware of the problems of drug and alcohol addiction...can we draw some similarities and some differences in a gambling addiction?

WEXLER: Well, I could tell you that surveys that have been done in treatment centers, and we go out and speak in treatment centers, we find anywhere from about 20 to 35 % of the population in drug and alcohol treatment centers, are dually addicted compulsive gamblers. And some of the similarities would be: they try to stop and they can't, they'll lie to cover up, compulsive gambling has the same stigma as alcoholism had 30 years ago. One of the real problems is that it's invisible...and you can't see it or smell it, so you don't catch compulsive gamblers until they get into the real depths of this problem. They'll have depressions and highs and lows, gambling will control their whole life...they remember their first gamble like they remember their first drink. He'll have withdrawal symptoms, denial and relapse is something you see. Alcohol and drugs are pain killers...and so is gambling. They'll have low self- esteem and big ego. The rush and high of gambling is very similar to cocaine. They'll have physical disease, a lot of heart attacks....gamblers don't take care of themselves in the midst of their gambling...they need the money for gambling, so they haven't got time or don't want to spend the money to go see doctors or dentists.

NEMA: We'll talk with Arnie Wexler soon about getting help for the addiction. If you or someone you know needs help now, call your doctor, or the Gamblers Anonymous chapter in your state.

Transcripts:

Week: 546.3 Guest: Arnie Wexler, Compulsive Gambling Counselor Topic: The Disease of Compulsive Gambling, Part Two of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Compulsive gambling counselor Arnie Wexler is with us today. A problem with compulsive gambling can be just as serious as drug and alcohol addiction...ripping apart families and careers. It can be difficult to find treatment because of the stigma and the cost. Arnie, does the compulsive gambler usually wind up seeking help for his problem...or is it a case of friends and family getting the addict to change?

WEXLER: Well, it's interesting... the people in the 12 step recovery groups tell me that 70% of calls come from spouses and relatives. When I ran the council in New Jersey, 70% of our calls come from the gambler, and we had our 800 number posted in the point of gambling areas: at the race tracks, on the lottery tickets, on the lottery machines, and all the casinos...so the gamblers saw it and knew where to get calls, where to get help when they finally made a call in the desperation phase, when they really feel at the lowest point, looking for help.

NEMA: Are the methods of counseling similar to drug addiction counseling?

WEXLER: There's a lot of similarities and there's some differences. Most treatment centers that are dealing....in fact every treatment center that's working with compulsive gamblers mixes them with the drug and alcohol population, and it works very well.

NEMA: You can look in the phone book and find many treatment centers and programs for drug and alcohol addiction....why aren't there more people who treat compulsive gambling?

WEXLER: I believe the reason for that is that the insurance companies aren't paying for compulsive gambling treatment. There's no money left...the gambler has gone through everything and owes all kinds of money. The average compulsive gambler who calls a hotline owes over 40 thousand dollars. So it's pretty difficult, unless they have a family member or somebody that has money that they're connected to, to pay for treatment.

NEMA: Would a broke compulsive gambler be eligible for some kind of government assistance to get treatment...or is that impossible now?

WEXLER: Well, it's really only a pipedream, but in fact, in New Jersey we convinced the legislature to put in 100 thousand dollars for treatment...which is not a lot of money, considering we have 450 thousand compulsive gamblers in New Jersey alone.

NEMA: People who follow sports, and even some who don't, know the story of Art Schlichter, the NFL quarterback whose life has gone down in flames because of his intense gambling addiction. Are athletes in general more prone to gambling problems?

WEXLER: The unreasonable optimism and the high levels of energy, and the personality traits of sports figures lend them to be compulsive gamblers at a higher percentage than the normal average in the population. I've worked with Art Schlichter for about 15 years now, and he's one of the toughest cases that I've seen in a long time. But it's not unusual to have compulsive gamblers end up in jail...in some kind of mental institution...attempting suicide, those kind of things.

NEMA: How do you know a compulsive gambler is on the road to recovery?

WEXLER: Well, I think that it's pretty easy to see the change in the person and the personality...and to see recovery. I think if they're hanging with the people that are showing good recovery signs...I think that's one of the real keys to see if somebody's in recovery. It's not unusual to see compulsive gamblers in a very early stage all of the sudden become very productive on their job once they stop gambling.

NEMA: Our thanks to Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler and counselor. If you or someone in your family is having this problem, your first step could be to call your doctor....or call the chapter of Gambler's Anonymous in your state for information, guidance and support. I'm Steve Girard.

Return to Topic List

Send mail to info@nemahealth.org with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 1997 National Emergency Medicine Assoc., Inc.
Last modified: April 23, 2022