In our new Tell Your Story series, we’ll be featuring stories of those who have experienced or have been impacted by problem gambling.
Bottoming out for good. Here’s Scott’s story.
If you’ve ever been to Atlantic City, you know it’s an exciting place. High-rise hotels, famous nightclubs, and glitzy casinos line the boardwalk. As a young guy, Atlantic City had all the appeal of a fun spot to spend an evening and unwind.
At the casinos, these thrills were more enticing than I realized. That evening, I found myself glued to the gaming tables. I couldn’t get up and walk back to my room. I ended up gambling all night long.
When I visited Atlantic City, I’d been sober for about a year. Growing up, I had problems with drinking and drugs, but fortunately, the effects of these addictions hit me early and hard. I got into recovery programs and by all accounts, was doing well.
That night triggered another addiction that I’d fight for years: problem gambling.
Deep down, I knew that as a recovering alcoholic and drug user, finding and chasing other highs wasn’t a good idea. I swore to my girlfriend that I’d never gamble again.
Except I did. I started to chase, even sprint after the high of gambling. I started buying scratch tickets and visiting more casinos. And unlike my drinking or drug use, I didn’t seek recovery.
Several years later, I fell on tough times. That’s when my gambling got out of control. I didn’t have any close family or friends I could turn to, and instead, I turned to slot machines. I started going to casinos to play high-limit slot machines. Gambling became an escape and winning felt ecstatic. And like my night in Atlantic City, I found it harder and harder to walk away from the machines and the tables.
My life began to revolve around weekends at the casino. I drifted away from participating in 12-step recovery programs. I started spending money like it didn’t matter and racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. When I maxed out my credit cards, I sold personal possessions, trying to pay off the surging debts from each weekend’s worth of gambling. My relationships took a toll, too. I pushed many people away.
No wake-up call seemed to shake my habit. One day, I ended up hitting the slots and winning $46,000 but left the casino with only $3,000 in my pocket. Even refinancing my home to pay off my debts didn’t deter my gambling. The addiction had me by the throat, and I was powerless, unable to look past the upcoming weekend and my next bets.
The real jolt to the system was when I started thinking of doing something illegal to continue gambling. I realized I was helpless and hopeless. I was contemplating suicide.
Just 20 minutes later, one of my sisters called me. A friend of mine from one of the 12-step programs was worried about my wellbeing. He had called my family.
That was May 2008. I was in rough shape mentally and emotionally, but I got help. Through the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, I found a counselor. I’ve been fortunate to find some really important people in my life and got back on track with the 12-step programs for my addictions.
Since then, gambling has been a monkey on my shoulder. I’ve stayed as vigilant around gambling as I need to be around drinking or drugs. From the high highs to the low lows, I didn’t want to look at my gambling honestly until I reached a point of sheer desperation. When I got honest with myself, it became a weight lifted off my shoulders.
My advice? Help yourself before you bottom out. Talk to someone on the Mass Council’s LiveChat or call the GamLine at 1-800-GAM-1234, 24/7.