State Views: Men, women are not alike in problem gambling

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Rose Gruber
Friday, September 20, 2013

Most people probably think of problem gambling as an addiction that typically affects men. But a growing number of women are dealing with this addiction, and the warning signs are actually different than with their male counterparts.

Women now make up about 50 percent of problem gamblers, which is reflected in the near even split of the number of calls to the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline each year. In fact, in the 45-64 age group, female gamblers clearly outnumber male gamblers.

While there's that near even split, there remains the stereotype that gambling addiction is a male issue. This makes it not only difficult to identify gambling addiction in women, but it gives a false sense of security to family, friends and the problem gamblers themselves.

There are actually key gender differences for most problem gamblers. When it comes to male gamblers, betting can become an addiction because they love and need to feel the rush and excitement of winning. Most female gamblers, on the other hand, use gambling as a way to escape certain feelings, family demands or difficult situations. Using gambling as an escape is not the common stereotype of a problem gambler, so many women tend to think they don't have an issue.

It's also very common for women to not seek help with a gambling addiction because of the fear that they will be perceived as being bad parents or people will think they are irresponsible and selfish. Many women who gamble fear judgment, exposure, shame and guilt. That can be a cycle that is difficult to break.

Women often gamble to forget about their feelings or difficult situations. When they are not winning at slots or bingo, they feel guilty for losing money that could have been used for other things such as family expenses. The depression a woman encounters as a result of a gambling addiction can be quite severe.

There are signs to watch for. Female problem gamblers tend to:

-- Divert money from household funds.

-- Delay payment of household bills.

-- Borrow money without repayment.

-- Become withdrawn and depressed.

-- Create elaborate lies to conceal their gambling.

-- Experience extreme guilt and shame.

-- Disappear for periods of time.

Because identifying a gambling addiction in women can be difficult, being aware of the different warning signs is very important. Seeking treatment that addresses the specific issues that impact women who have gambling addictions can help rebuild self-esteem, confidence and provide the tools to deal with life issues in healthy ways.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please take the important step to call the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLE-5 for confidential help.

Rose Gruber is executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling. The council provides resources, public awareness and education on problem and pathological gambling disorders while maintaining strict neutrality on the issue of legalized gambling. Readers can contact Gruber at (920) 437-8888 or wcpgamble5-rose@new.rr.com.

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