Routing an escape from gambling madness
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
When Nathaniel Peterson got off work, he checked into his fantasy world.
Once in front of a video poker machine, he could forget reality— the shock of his father’s death, his anger, loneliness and depression, all the burdening lies to his wife, family and friends, borrowing money and embezzling large sums of it from his work, the closing walls of shame and secrecy.
Another 10 bucks and it would all go away, “Just let me win, so I can sit here and keep playing,” was his magical thinking.
For many people, gambling is recreational, but for some it can be life consuming. Three percent of the adult population has a problem or pathological gambling addiction, said Philip Yassenoff, program manager at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s gambling treatment program.
Many gamblers are unaware that treatment services are free, paid fully by the state of Oregon. With several different locations, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare is one of the Portland area providers that offer no-cost counseling and treatment programs to individuals and families affected by gambling.
When Peterson hit rock bottom he felt worthless. He couldn’t eat or sleep, “I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror—I hated myself so much,” said Peterson. Isolated from everyone close to him, he said, “I just wanted to get caught and finally, I did.”
While recreational gamblers may enjoy the initial excitement of pulling a slot machine or can budget $20 to spend before cashing in for the night, problem gamblers enter a warped state of mind.
“Gambling is a disease,” said Yassenoff. Addiction is the result of altered brain chemistry. Often times a gambling addiction can overlap other addictions, like alcohol, or mental health issues, like depression.
Problem gamblers may go out of their way — rob, steal, embezzle, abuse and take advantage of the ones they love—to get more money to gamble. “It’s like finding a key to a door that they never knew existed,” said Yassenoff.
He tells his clients, “You are not weak. You did not wake up one day and become a pathological gambler.” Something happened to you in your life, emotional loss, a divorce, disturbing childhood, poverty, a social injustice, any breadth of issues, he said, that leads you down a road of addiction.
Gambling transcends demographics, he said. A chief executive may just as affected as a blue collar worker, only the former has more money to blow.
For Peterson, gambling was a way to escape his emotional issues. “It’s like a drug,” he said. “All your thinking revolves around gambling, how to get money to gamble and how to maintain gambling.”
When he lost his job, Peterson finally called to get help. He checked into a treatment facility where he met with a counselor. For the first four or five months, he continued to lie and gamble as he got help.
But after being sick and tired of being sick and tired, Peterson realized treatment was an opportunity to change his character, restore his values and beliefs, and learn how to take control of his life again.
Today, having spent 4 and one half years in recovery and as participant of Gambling Anonymous, Peterson has not relapsed.
“People demonstrate such courage and willingness to have that learning process,” said Yessenoff of his clients. “Gambling becomes a catalyst to improve their life across the board.”
Peterson says one of his ultimate realizations was that he was not alone. Now he wants to make sure people are aware that gambling addiction is a very real thing. “I want to put a face on gambling,” he said.