Q. I have lost over $7,000 to gambling this past year. I don’t gamble that often, so I’m not sure if I have a problem. How can I tell the difference between just having a fun day at the casinos and a serious gambling problem?
A. I don’t know what your financial situation is, but most people would be very concerned if they lost $7,000. Regardless of how infrequently you gamble, if you lose money that you need or feel remorse after your losses, you likely have a gambling addiction.
According to the website, www.helpguide.org, there are several questions you should ask yourself to ascertain if you are a compulsive gambler.
• Do you need to keep your gambling a secret?
• Are you hoping that money from a big win will help you pay bills or debts?
• Can you step away after you’ve won, or do you continue until you’ve spent your winnings?
• Do you gamble even though you are causing financial problems for yourself or your family?
• Do you miss paying bills because of gambling losses?
• Do you lie to your family and friends if they question you about gambling?
Since you are expressing concern, I would suggest that you seek help through Gamblers Anonymous or schedule an appointment with a cognitive behavior therapist (CBT). This type of therapy will help you to find other pleasurable activities, to control spending, to discuss other possible compulsive behaviors, and to address the issues that have led to the gambling problem.
As a part of your recovery, it is important to block on-line computer gaming sites, stay away from racetracks, and contact the casinos. Tell them you need to restrict your gambling in their establishments because you are a compulsive gambler. Many casinos will block your credit card use and discontinue your credit line.
Q. I think my daughter-in-law is using cocaine again. She had a problem in the past. She denies she is using it, but I’m concerned. My son does not believe me. What are the signs we should look for?
A. Cocaine is an extremely addictive drug because it floods the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of pleasure. However, when excessive cocaine is used over a period of time, this pleasure can turn to anger, aggression and even psychotic symptoms.
If your daughter-in-law is using cocaine on a regular basis, there will likely be several changes in her behavior. Some of the observable ones are:
• Sudden disappearance of money or valuables.
• Withdrawal symptoms such as sleep disturbances, agitation, depression, and extreme fatigue.
• Becoming argumentative over small concerns.
• Isolating from friends and family members who may become suspicious.
• Suddenly missing work because of alleged sickness.
• Missing appointments.
• Breaking promises to family and friends.
• Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable.
• Infrequent eating which can lead to weight loss and even anemia.
In addition to the behavioral changes, there are also cognitive repercussions associated with cocaine abuse. The most frequent cognitive problems result from a lack of “executive functioning,” which means that your daughter-in-law may have difficulty with judgment, planning, attention and impulse control.
If there are warning signs that your daughter-in-law is using cocaine again, your son may choose to ignore them or he may be in denial. Since he has lived through this before, he may have given up hope of having a drug-free spouse. If both your daughter-in-law and son do not perceive that there is a problem, there is little you can do.
An excellent resource for your family is a well-researched article entitled “Cocaine and Psychiatric Symptoms” by W. Alexander Morton. You can locate it through the website www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Be certain your son has access to it.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.