Problem gambling is growing in the state, according to members of the Addiction Ministries team for the Oklahoma Conference. Member Linda Mummey, of Tulsa-St. Paul’s UMC, writes here about insights she gained from recent training opportunities.
By Linda Mummey
As many as 105,000 Oklahomans have gambling addictions. Some of your friends and neighbors may be fighting this terrible compulsion that carries the highest suicide rate among addictions. It is rapidly becoming the No. 1 addiction in the state.
Certified gambling counselors—a relatively new counseling designation in Oklahoma—have their hands full.
How do we help gambling addicts and their families?
The United Methodist Church in Oklahoma has an active Addiction Ministry. Training and growth opportunities are available for laity and clergy. The Summer School on Chemical Dependency is June 13-24 at Oklahoma City University.
When public and private institutions make gambling a way to raise money, we as the Church should respond. Our call to action is found in the Social Principles of the United Methodist Book of Discipline: "The Church’s prophetic call is to promote standards of justice and advocacy that would make it unnecessary and undesirable to resort to commercial gambling, including public lotteries, casinos, raffles, Internet gambling, and other games of chance, as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government."
Many people are naturally competitive and enjoy playing games. When does that cross the line into compulsive gambling and addiction? Could a simple bet between children racing home be a trigger for a recovering gambling addict?
Gambling, for the compulsive gambler, is defined as any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or skill.
There are major challenges in dealing with this addiction.
The gambler becomes addicted through chemical changes created by the body itself, while the drug or alcohol addict uses an outside substance to cause similar chemical changes (the "high" sought by addicts).
For recovery, the spouse and family members, often referred to as codependents, should take more control, especially regarding finances. Counselors provide explicit instructions that a recovering gambler should not be involved in the family finances.
A gambling addict may live in a mystical world of fantasy, believing the next bet would cover all the debts ever incurred by him/her and by everyone else the addict knows. Yes, the addict’s best intention is even to cover the debts of the church. To recover, the addict must be able to clearly recognize reality. Distinguishing between the spirituality of God and the spirituality of luck may be a major challenge.
Patience is needed to begin unraveling the debt. By the time an addict seeks help, that person is usually deep in debt, seemingly insurmountable. In Gamblers Anonymous, the 12 steps are worked at a very slow pace. The recovering gambler must learn patience.
The recovering gambler is discouraged from going near a casino, particularly in the early stages. Even the jangling of coins or certain bell sounds may remind that person of casino machines.
United Methodists need to be considerate of these issues, particularly any potential triggers, when making church-related plans. The first cries of pain may be heard from a family member, not the addict. Be prepared to refer people to counselors or Gamblers Anonymous.
Mummey was one of four Oklahoma United Methodists who attended the Oklahoma Institute for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Education and Training event on March 5.
Among resources for this article were that training and information from Tulsa counselor Mary Kirkpatrick.