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Treatment \ Recovery

Women and Gambling: Symptoms and Effects

Is Gambling Running Over the Rest Of Your Life?

Women and Gambling
The lack of women in Gamblers Anonymous does not represent the number of women with this illness. It is similar to the disease of alcoholism 30 years ago, when women were treated with reprimands and tranquilizers. Compulsive gambling is not discriminatory. The percentage of female gamblers is on the rise.

Bingo, bocehe, or Baccarat... it's not the game of's the loss of choice... But whatever she bets on, you can bet that the female compulsive gambler is riot taken seriously.

Female gamblers may be difficult to identify.

  • Denial is a symptom of the illness-with the family, as well as the gambler.
  • Stigma, shame and fear are felt not only by the compulsive gambler. Spouse/family contribute to the cover-up (bail-out, enabling) of female gamblers by others.
  • Female gamblers become involved in illegal activities in the desperation phase.

"Other wives shop till they drop. But Paula plays a mean game of poker, and handicaps the horses better than any man I know. I'm proud as Hell of her! So what when she loses? I can afford it. besides its all part of the game". Darren, Lawyer, age 41

The Illness
Compulsive gambling is a progressive behavior disorder characterized by a psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. It was first classified in 1980 as a "disorder of impulse control" by the American Psychiatric Association. Compulsive gambling is a diagnosable and treatable illness. Unless treated, the gambling will reach the point where it compromises, disrupts and then destroys the gambler's personal and professional life. These problems further intensify the gambling behavior.

To the compulsive, gambling offers an easy solution to some of life's most pressing problems:
insufficient money, little prestige or self-esteem, feelings of boredom or failure, hopelessness and defeat. At the center of the disease is a certainty that the gambler must lose. With continued losses, there is an increase of those very problems which led to gambling in the beginning. This increases the pressures (and the stakes) and the gambling continues more heavily and more frequently. To the compulsive gambler, the need to bet becomes the primary thought in her life.

The Female Compulsive Gambler
It is estimated that 5% of the general population are compulsive gamblers, and 1/3 of those compulsive gamblers are women, Their disease affects spouses, children, and other family members, as well as friends, co-workers and employers. People with a family history of alcohol, drug, or gambling problems are at greatest risk. Someone who is in recovery from another addiction is especially vulnerable.

"I was in outpatient treatment for drugs and alcohol but going to the casinos almost every day. No one had ever asked about my gambling habits- they were all too hung up on the family history of drugs and alcohol. But by the time my gambling addiction was identified, I had embezzled and written bad checks to cover over $50,000 in gambling debts." Carol, age 26


  • Most female gamblers are "closet gamblers" and seldom brag about their wins,
  • Most women stay with legal gambling.
  • 75% of female gamblers describe their gambling as escape gambling". Some of the reasons:
    Stress, such as marital problems, financial problems, and memories of traumatic situations in childhood.
  • Most female compulsive gamblers have a family history of addiction or other compulsive disorders.
  • Most female compulsive gamblers are dependent on something other than gambling (alcohol, drugs, overeating, overspending, sex) at some point.
  • Most women begin gambling at a later age than men.

The Progression
Gambling has three phases:

  • The Winning Phase (Search for Action or Escape). Wins enhance self-esteem and ego. Losses are rationalized as bad luck, or poor advice. The gambler will frequently fantasize about "The Big Win" or look for the "Great Escape".
  • The Losing Phase (The Chase). As losses increase and self-esteem is jeopardized, the gambler will borrow money to "get even", hiding losses and borrowing even more. Lies, loan fraud, absenteeism, family disputes and job changes are common danger signals
  • The Desperation Phase. The gambler becomes obsessed with covering stolen money, withdrawals from family bank accounts, and secret loans. She panics at the thought that the gambling action will end if the credit or bailouts stop. The gambler will often turn to illegal activities to support the addiction. She can experience severe mood swings. Suicide may be attempted as a way out.

"How could I admit that I left my children alone, night after night, to go to the casinos or the race track? My husband was working the night shift and a part-time day job to provide for our family. Hut the kids wore hand-me-down's, There was never enough money for food I was gambling it all away. (Amy, mother of six, 83 years old)

Hope for Recovery
The goal of the Council is to inform and motivate health care professionals, legislators, educators and community members regarding the full scope of compulsive gambling in the State of New Jersey, so that we may serve in identification, prevention, and referral capacities related to compulsive gambling.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Inc. provides the following services:

The 1-800-GAMBLERĀ© Helpline, giving people who have a gambling problem (or those who care about them) a place to turn for help.
Speakers for special interest, senior centers, schools, colleges and civic organization.
In-service programs and workshops to educate health care, business, and school professionals. Regional conferences and an annual Statewide Conference on Compulsive Gambling.
Media interviews and public awareness programs. Our Council conducts 1,600 - 2,000 media contacts each year. In addition, our website,  is one of the most visited sites in the world for compulsive and problem gambling information.
Referrals to counseling and treatment programs specifically for compulsive gambling.

Last Updated:3/13/2007 11:26:43 AM