Updated on October 31, 2019
Beneath the glamour and excitement of casino gambling lies a little-known truth. While the vast majority of recreational gamblers find gambling entertaining and leave at the end of the day or night with their wallets and spirits intact, for some 3.5 percent of the population (some 10 million people) gambling takes a tragic toll. Families fall apart, promises break, and careers shatter under the burden of gambling addiction. In the worst-case scenario, a pathological gambler will take their own life, leaving a gaping and irrecoverable hole in their family and community. In fact, suicide—and the higher rates of suicide linked to gambling—is the ugly truth that casinos don’t want you to see…..
How Problem Gambling Leads to Suicide
For someone who compulsively gambles, the odds of experiencing huge financial losses are high. Eventually, an accumulation of these losses can result in bankruptcy, foreclosure and other severe, negative consequences. These can place an enormous strain on family relationships and can lead to divorce, estrangement and other wreckage. Moreover, when someone has a bona fide gambling addiction, they can go so far as to risk their job security for another game of slot machines. Together, the loss of a job, all income, and all family support can be nothing short of devastating.
For gamblers who have tumbled from the highest of highs (while in the winning phase) to the lowest of lows (when all hope is lost), suicide often emerges as the only escape and a necessary solution. The dream world that the problem gambler once occupied is now gone and in its place is only despair. Where once there were glamour and excitement in the casino life—and in the free rooms, airfare, unlimited access to alcohol, food, and ritzy surroundings—now there is only despair. In this state of mind, a person is at a much higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Higher Rates of Suicide Among Gamblers – The Link Between Gambling and Suicide
Because an untreated gambling problem can lead to suicide, it may not be surprising that gamblers have the highest suicide rate of any addiction. While there are more drug and alcohol addicts (about 25 to 30 million in the US) as opposed to 10 million or so pathological gamblers, a larger percentage of gamblers attempt or complete suicide. Why don’t we hear about the numbers of suicides in casinos? Because casinos only publish the numbers of people who die by jumping— probably because these are the deaths that are visible. The other fatalities, such as hangings or overdoses in hotel rooms, are discreetly removed via the back elevators so that the casino’s reputation won’t be tarnished.
Alcoholism and Other Co-Occurring Disorders That Raise Suicide Risks
The ready presence of alcohol at casinos is another issue worth noting in relation to how problem gambling leads to suicide. That’s because gambling and alcoholism can often co-occur and affect similar reward pathways in the brain. When gambling co-occurs with a substance use disorder like alcohol, that fact alone can mean the risks of suicide are now higher.
Gambling can also co-occur with other mental health conditions (a.k.a. “co-occurring disorders” or “dual diagnoses”). This is worth noting because 90 percent of people who take their own life have a mental health disorder (often depression or PTSD). And, it can be easy to see how someone whose gambling addiction has cost them everything may develop a diagnosis of major depression. If that condition goes unchecked and untreated, suicide is a very real risk.
Common “Tricks of the Trade” – How Casinos Enable Gambling
Casinos are complicit with respect to this link between suicide and gambling: They use certain “tricks of the trade” to encourage customers to gamble and keep gambling. Some examples of these enabling gimmicks that reward addictive gambling behaviors include:
- flashy billboards and advertisements that lure people to the front door
- the absence of clocks or windows inside the casino to obscure a sense of the passage of time (so that customers are more likely to linger and gamble more)
- psychedelic carpets and a hypnotic ambiance, which encourage customers to focus on gambling
- lights, sounds, and activities that intentionally target the reward system of customers’ brain (which is also the region of the brain where addiction develops)
- so-called freebies, such as food and prizes, which hook customers into playing more
- wins that are metered out to encourage sustained engagement
Online casinos have their own wily ways of reeling customers in. Someone who gambles once online will soon get barraged by invitations from other gambling sites. The steady stream of tempting email and pop-up offers can prove hard to resist.
Is There Hope for People Struggling with a Gambling Addiction?
Absolutely! FHE Health has the most highly qualified, experienced and among best-known gambling specific therapists in the country. Under the leadership of Sue Naversen, who has treated well over 1500 gamblers and dually diagnosed patients; and Arnie and Sheila Wexler, also world-renowned marketers and educators in the field of pathological gambling, FHE Health offers the prospect for a full and complete life of recovery.
Cutting-edge neuroscience techniques are also employed to help heal the brain. Solution-based therapy along with cognitive-behavioral therapies, family systems therapy, and alternative medicine are just a few of the modalities utilized in a residential setting to help patients deal not only with financial problems but more importantly help address issues and self-destructive behaviors by “scrubbing your soul” and addressing core issues.
At FHE Health, we truly care about our patients and will do everything in our power to prevent another tragedy. But more importantly, we will do everything in our power to open the door to a new and bright future, free of despair and filled with hope.