Gambling addiction a greater risk for seniors

Gambling (or playing a game of chance for money or other stakes), is a popular activity for people of any age; and senior citizens are no exception. While most adults can gamble without any problems or negative side effects, senior citizens appear to be one population that has a higher likelihood of developing difficulties moderating how much they gamble. There are several reasons why we see more senior citizens developing an addiction to gambling then the general adult population (2.9 compared 1-2 percent).

Seniors are dealing with major life changes like retirement, increasing personal health issues, and death of friends or family members. These major life transitions that can lead to isolation, loneliness and depression. For many senior citizens, gambling is a fun social outlet that does not have physical limitations like other activities. Also, there are numerous opportunities to attend gambling activities like poker, bingo, or bus trips to area casinos. Although retirement certainly has many advantages, there are new challenges as well, such as living on a set income. Retired adults no longer have the opportunity to put in extra ours to make up for monthly monetary shortfalls. Many seniors have little to no experience with addiction, so it may be difficult to recognize when gambling is becoming a problem. They may also delay or refuse to seek help for a gambling addiction if they have never received help from social service agencies in the past. Older adults may feel there is a negative stigma attached to people who struggle to moderate their gambling; these folks will avoid telling their doctors about any stress or difficulty they may be experiencing. Also, when adults begin to experience cognitive decline they may find it more difficult to make sound decisions.

Special warnings should also be given to those adults who are taking medication for Parkinson’s disease. The medications used to increase dopamine production (which helps in Parkinson’s treatment), have the negative side effects of influencing the patient’s ability to control impulses and sensation-seeking behaviors. Similar findings have been found in medications used to treat Restless Leg Syndrome. A person who takes medication for either of these conditions should be aware of the increased risk for developing impulsive and/addictive behaviors and take extra precautions.

If you are concerned about a friend or loved one’s gambling or other addictive behaviors, several resources can offer help. Beacon Light Behavioral Health has many free and confidential resources to address a wide array of addiction topics. Please call (814) 584-1140 and ask for the Prevention Program. Also, if you know of someone who is experiencing gambling difficulties, the PA Problem Gambling hotline is always available by calling (877) 565-2112 or visit the state website at www.PAPROBLEMGAMBLING.com.

March is National Gambling Addiction Awareness Month. Gambling Addiction is a social issue that impacts many citizens of Warren and Forest counties. To better understand gambling addiction and those who may be at higher risk for developing a problem; please contact Nicole Drozdiel at Beacon Light Behavioral Health.