Monday, April 16, 2018

Post 105


Recently, I received a “Class Project” report from one of our candidates for the International Board’s Clergy/Lay Minister Certification in Gambling Addiction Prevention, Education, Awareness and Spiritual Outreach Care.  The packet contained an interesting description of a special program presented to faith leaders about compulsive gambling and recovery, complete with narrative, promotional material, and PowerPoint handout.  Within the PowerPoint, a term caught my eye … the purest addiction is disordered gambling.  Why purest?  Simply put, the gambling itself produces the dopamine chemical response – without any substance (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food)  ingested.  Of course, I knew this; but such a point-blank statement caused me to rethink the uniqueness of compulsive gambling as an addiction compared to other forms of addiction … hence the topic of this month’s GRM Blog.

To begin, let’s take a look at all of the characteristics that disordered gambling shares with other addictions to classify them as addictive behaviors.  Preoccupation occurs: thoughts about and planning to imbibe predominate over ordinary thinking patterns.  Loss of control is more likely than not.  A tolerance develops so that the person needs more of the substance/activity to achieve the same effect; and there’s a chasing of the first high/win.  When the person cuts back or abstains, withdrawal symptoms take place; but immediate gratification is felt when using to relieve withdrawal symptoms.  There is a use of rituals associated with the behavior, also.

Then too, other factors develop in association with addiction, in general.  There is a loss of spirituality as well as life management skills.  The individual continues to use regardless of the consequences. As a result, family/friends/associates are chronically impacted.  Moreover, treatment and support groups can be of tremendous help in attaining (and maintaining) recovery.

On the flip side, with a focus on disordered gambling (compulsive gambling, gambling addiction, problem gambling), we see a distinct form of addiction.  Let’s remember, also, that the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) designates compulsive gambling as an addiction – the only addiction not dependent on ingesting/inhaling a substance.  What unique characteristics of disordered gambling, then contribute to the development of an addiction minus co-morbid substance abuse behavior?  Obviously, winning (not just money) results in gain, usually a desired attainment.  It feels good to win!  There’s a rush of excitement … a turn of good luck.  The brain remembers!  If  the opportunity to possibly win presents itself soon, the brain recalls those feelings.  The outcome is unpredictable but there’s always a chance – especially (one may think) if it’s a near-win. Thus the near encourages predictability (a false sense of) and, therefore, increased excitement. Subsequently, fantasies of success in winning impact the person to continue the gambling.

Also, gambling – compared to substance abuse - is not self-limiting.  Gambling, by itself, does not cause intoxication.  No diagnostic medical test can detect pathological gambling. The gambler is not obviously impaired - in turn setting up more time devoted to gamble. Then too, without overt indications of addiction, the compulsive gambler can take on an appearance of normalcy and sharp-mindedness.  Only as the individual sinks deeper into addiction will loved ones and associates begin to notice certain behaviors indicating withdrawal, etc. 

With few or no outward hints of addictive behavior, the gambler with his/her secret addiction will become adept at hiding evidences of mounting unpaid bills and time lost in legitimate activity.  For the gambler, there tends to be greater denial, stronger defenses, and much higher amounts of financial difficulties.

Furthermore, the swiftness of addiction-progression uniquely marks disordered gambling.  Many gambling venues offer multiple and/or instant winning possibilities, thus commonly creating situations to gamble repeatedly in a short amount of time.  Often with such quick progression, the reality of addiction is baffling to the gambler – and to the loved ones, as well.

Finally, from the viewpoint of the gambler’s loved ones, a single question of the 20 Questions Is There a Gambling Problem in Your Family? stands out as unique to those impacted by compulsive gambling.  Pointedly, this question – so characteristic of disordered gambling – does not describe other addictions:  Does this person ever gamble to get money to solve financial difficulties or have unrealistic expectations that gambling will bring the family material comfort and wealth?  (Gam-Anon International Service Office)   

With all of this said, however, it is important to note that, definitely, there are established co-morbid behaviors associated with gambling and substance abuse.  The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Inc. cites that smoking is a powerful reinforcement for the trance-inducing rituals associated with gambling (Harper, 2003).  Additionally, it is known that some gamblers use cocaine to keep themselves awake and alert in order to gamble for multi-hour mega-stretches.  Then too, excess alcohol usage can lower gamblers’ inhibitions while gambling.

Though gambling addiction can have devastating effects on both individuals and loved ones  – and is commonly misunderstood by the public – there is both help and hope.  Call 1-800-GAMBLER (or check the websites below) for treatment; and/or for recovery help and support call  Gamblers Anonymous 1-626-960-3501 or Gam-Anon 1-718-352-1671.


Rev. Janet Jacobs, CCGSO                                                                                                                    

Founding Director                                                                                                                                  

Gambling Recovery Ministries
For more information on problem gambling and recovery issues, visit:                                                                                                                                         

Monday, March 5, 2018

Post 104

The entire month of March is …


The theme for NPGAM 2018 is “Have the Conversation”   and

The goals of this national campaign are:

1.     to increase public awareness of problem gambling and the availability of prevention, treatment, and recovery services

2.     to encourage healthcare providers to screen clients for problem gambling

Therefore, within this March edition of the GRM Blog are the following:

·        a conversational description about gambling disorder

·        a clinical screen

What is Gambling Disorder?

Gambling is betting something valuable on an event that is determined by chance. The gambler hopes that he or she will ‘win,’ and gain something of value. Once placed, a bet cannot be taken back. When most people think of gambling, they think of slots machines and casinos. But, it’s important to understand that playing bingo, buying lottery tickets, even betting on office pools—all of these, and many other activities, are forms of gambling.

Mental health professionals have developed criteria that help to identify when someone has a problem. For example, many professionals use the DSM criteria. The DSM is a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association. Professionals use the DSM to diagnose psychological problems. The newest version of the DSM lists Gambling Disorder alongside other addictive behaviors.

The DSM-5 provides a series of symptoms commonly found among people with gambling problems. The symptoms include:

A. Persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the following in a 12-month period:

1. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.

2. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.

3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.

4. Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).

5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).

6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses).

7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.

8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.

 9. Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

B. The gambling behavior is not better explained by a manic episode.

People meet the DSM standard for gambling disorder when they satisfy 4 of these criteria.

Gambling problems exist with every form of gambling activity. It’s not just associated with casinos or Internet gambling. Bingo players, lottery players, casino players, and friends playing poker all can develop gambling disorders.

People with Gambling Disorder continue gambling despite bad consequences. For example, they might not fulfill work or home duties, or have legal problems. They also might have repeated social problems, like getting into fights and conflicts with other people. People with Gambling Disorder are preoccupied with gambling. They may try to quit unsuccessfully or hide their behavior. They might also commit crimes to pay for their gambling.


NOTE:  The above information on Gambling Disorder is provided to the public as part of the National Problem Gambling Awareness Month sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling at

 Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS) Questionnaire

Name  ________________________________   Date  _______________

To screen for potential gambling-related problems, please ask the following questions:

1. During the past 12 months, have you become restless irritable or anxious when trying to stop/cut down on gambling? • Yes • No

2. During the past 12 months, have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gambled? • Yes • No

3. During the past 12 months did you have such financial trouble as a result of your gambling you had to get help with living expenses from family, friends or welfare? • Yes • No


NOTE:  The above information on Gambling Disorder is provided to the public as part of the National Problem Gambling Awareness Month sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling at

So this month, start and share the conversation and provide the information and websites!
Rev. Janet Jacobs, CCGSO
Founding Director
Gambling Recovery Ministries

For more information on problem gambling and recovery issues, visit:                                                                                                                                             

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Post 103


Twelve Steps and Inspirations from the Legend of St. Valentine 

Within this past January GRM Blog, I referred to the making of New Year’s resolutions or new goals for 2018 by noting that often by mid-February, those aspirations are cast aside or simply ignored.  Well, it’s past that point now – and at the end of the month. If resolutions or goals were made … how are you doing?   Have they been cast aside, ignored, perhaps only contemplated, or has a new resolve actually become an acquired aspect of your lifestyle?  Taking a look at the latter possibility, how did change occur?  Bit by bit?  Cold-turkey?  Timidly?  Bravely with courage? 
John Kasich fills his book, Courage Is Contagious (Doubleday, New York, New York, 1998), with examples of persons facing life challenges and struggles that most of us may never experience.  Indeed, courage  is a door-opener … to new – and most probably unexpected – feelings, experiences, life changes, affirmations, deeper faith, and even more courage!

Earlier this month, I attended a GA/Gam-Anon Mini Conference.  The discussions and testimonies spoke truly of courage.  In fact, the prospect of change can be like stepping off a cliff into an unknown void: downright scary!  However, there is discernible security in the 12 Steps to Recovery while working with a seasoned (in recovery) sponsor and group support. 

Since it’s still February - and with a nod to St. Valentine (a courageous man) - let’s take a look at courageous questions that face courageous individuals seeking courageous recovery through each of the 12 Steps.  Asking these questions clarifies the key issue of each Step in the process of recovery. 

Questioning oneself turns the Step inward, thus personalizing the challenge (and subsequent invitation to change) by way of each Step attained. 

Notice, also, that there are blanks – spaces to fill in your addiction and/or troubling behavior.  This is not just about problem/compulsive gambling!

STEP 1:  We admitted we were powerless over gambling – that our lives had become unmanageable. QUESTION:  Have I lost control of _____?  Does my lifestyle center around ____  regardless of adverse consequences (or quite possible adverse consequences) to me, my family, my friends, my work?
STEP 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.                                                                                                              QUESTION:  What aspects of my current thinking and living are not normal due to  _______ ?  Without _______ how would normal thinking and living look like?

STEP 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.                                                                                                                                  QUESTION:  What will this care look like?  Is “care” the same as “control”?  Will I be able to make choices?
STEP 4:  Made a searching and fearless moral and financial inventory of ourselves.      QUESTION:  I am afraid to look at my moral self and my finances and to see the impact that _______ has had upon my whole self.  However, might I not feel relief instead to face the truth – both the positive and the negative aspects of my life?

STEP 5:  Admitted to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. QUESTION:  Will I feel relieved to share my “wrongs” with another person?  Or will I regret telling such things?  Regardless of these possible consequences, it will take courage – and I’ll learn more about myself and my abilities to be truthful and honest.
STEP 6:  Were entirely ready to have these defects of character removed.                       QUESTION:  Again, will sharing my defects of character with another person help me to feel unburdened (at least somewhat) and provide courage for me to be ready to remove the wrongs that have been holding me back from full recovery? 

STEP 7:  Humbly ask God (of our understanding) to remove our shortcomings.              QUESTION:  This question is twofold:  am I really, entirely ready enough to have my shortcomings removed by my higher Power; are the shortcomings to which I admit the same as those identified by God?
STEP 8:  Make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.  QUESTION:  What if the person has died or moved away (and their location is unknown) … how will I make amends?  Will the courage to share my wrongs to another person (Step 5) sufficiently strengthen me to be ready to make amends?

STEP 9:  Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.                                                                                                                     QUESTION:  What if the person does not accept my amend-making?  Will my efforts help me to close-the-door on my guilt and shame? 
STEP 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.  QUESTION:  May I be able to keep a courageous eye on denial by keeping my personal inventory current and honest?  

STEP 11:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.  QUESTION:  When I hesitate in fear to continue my recovery work, do I boldly pray for the courage to keep on keeping-on?
STEP 12:  Having made an effort to practice these principles in all our affairs, we tried to carry this message to other compulsive gamblers.                                                                              QUESTION:  Sometimes, it’s difficult to talk personally to another _________ for fear of rejection or derisive replies.  Will I count on the courage I’ve already gained (by working the Steps) to share my experiences and message of recovery?  

In closing, I recommend another book, as well …Why Courage Matters ..The Way to a Braver Life by John McCain with Mark Salter (Random House, Inc., New York, 2004).  Throughout this book, I am reminded of the many, new ministry projects and programs the congregations I pastored endeavored.  “But we’ve never done that before” did not stop them!  Instead, we would ask each other following yet another new outreach, “what if we hadn’t done this?”  
So how is COURAGE connected to St. Valentine of Rome?  It is noted in early church history, that Valentinus stood his ground against the Roman Emperor Claudius II.  During the third century A.D., persecution, of Christians who refused to worship Roman gods and/or the Emperor, increased.  Valentinus was no exception; and he was sentenced to death.  Awaiting his fate, according to legend, he was given the opportunity to tutor his jailor’s blind daughter.  Unafraid, Valentinus taught her, among many topics, how to pray; and when she prayed, legend has it, she received her sight!

By the way …

recovery has much to do with courage and new vision …
                           doesn’t it!   

Rev. Janet Jacobs, CCGSO
Founding Director
Gambling Recovery Ministries

For more information on problem gambling and recovery issues, visit:                                                                                                                                             


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Post 102

 ABOUT ESSENTIALS … ramblings to start the new year

The beginning of three very different days and nights began abruptly last Thursday.  We had just returned from an out-of-town visit.  Immediately, I went to the kitchen sink and turned on the faucet … water streamed out normally.  I sighed a big sigh of relief as we began unloading the car.  While we were gone, the temperatures had fallen – unexpectedly – below zero; and I was concerned about frozen pipes since we had forgotten to keep a drip going and the lower cupboard doors open.   However, half an hour later my relief came to a halt:  there was nary a drop from any of the faucets.  Quickly, before the stores closed, we bought water jugs to get us through until the morning.

The way-below normal temperatures continued the next two-plus days.  Wet-wipes, hand sanitizers, deliberately speedy hand washing, and keeping an eye on our bottled water supply took priority.  The ground had become so frozen any possible rain on the third day was forecasted to turn to ice. Predictions for warmer weather estimated two to three more days following Day 3.  We bought paper plates and cups (the dishwasher had become quite full) – and more water.  I kept thinking about those mission projects where wells are built in otherwise waterless communities … and the lead-in-the-water crisis experienced by the folks in Flint, Michigan, as well as victims of violent natural disasters.   How blessed we are who have safe potable – and hot - water at our fingertips, my mind exclaimed repeatedly.
With these rambles, I was reminded how essential the bare basics truly are to our thoughts and actions.  Indeed, the world of recovery – elementally – is impacted:  one’s opportunities for healing and wholeness are based on the essentials of life.  SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) working definition of recovery defines recovery as such:

·         “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness

·         live self-directed lives

·         and strive to reach their full potential”  (
Breaking down this definition, SAMHSA further describes recovery.

1.      “HEALTH:  overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms, for example, abstaining from use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications if one has an addiction problem – and for everyone in recovery, making informed healthy choices that support physical and emotional well being

2.      HOME:  having a stable and safe place to live

3.      PURPOSE:  conducting meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income, and resources to participate in society

4.      COMMUNITY: having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope”     ( )
As I review my thoughts and actions – which immediately took place once I knew we were in a water crisis - the above essentials of recovery (especially #2) seemed even more intertwined and dependent upon each other.  Moreover, how we respond to our life circumstances counts as an essential in defining recovery. healing, wholeness, and stability. 

A recent TV documentary followed the experience of an imprisoned inmate who had agreed to work with the staff psychiatrist with regard to committing to a faithful regimen of mental health medicines.  As he began to stabilize, he started to make a practice of finding things/people/circumstances for which to be thankful.  In turn, this helped him to respond more healthfully to his self-deprecating feelings of shame and guilt.  He grew to appreciate how having this daily giving-thanks goal - and truly being thankful - was an essential to his own mental health.

At the beginning of this new year, there will be countless numbers of people who will make resolutions and/or set goals.  Often by mid-February, those aspirations are cast aside or simply ignored.  One of the most realistic suggestions I have come across is to set mini-goals … for each day, week, month, etc. Working toward a better – not necessarily the best or perfect –situation seems more doable ... and  better can become better and better and even better!

This morning the hot shower felt heavenly!  Yes, the water crisis became solved (if only such crises had so quick a resolution) – last night around 10:30.  I noticed a drip-drip noise coming (on its own) from the kitchen sink.  Surely, the air temperatures had not been that warm to effect a thaw.  The warmer weather was still two days away.  Timidly, I opened wide the faucet - and out the water poured!  No sputtering, no hesitancy, just smooth, normal running water.  We checked the other faucets – all now with running water. We looked for leaks: nothing in the house, garage, or yard.  I ran my hands under warm, strong running water … and said a prayer of thanksgiving … for this very essential element in life.

           Rev. Janet Jacobs, CCGSO
           Founding Director
           Gambling Recovery Ministries

For more information on problem gambling and recovery issues, visit: