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Interview with Liz Karter about Problem Gambling

liz karterLiz Karter is an addiction therapist and has written many books on the topic. She shares her knowledge, expertise, and experience in problem gambling and touches upon issues related to women in problem gambling. Her latest book addresses that directly and is titled: Working with Women's Groups for Problem Gambling. You can read our Gambling Problem Guide here to learn more to get our tips on getting help.

1. Tell us about your line of work as a gambling addiction specialist. I have been treating gambling addiction in both men and women since 2001 and have worked with all leading UK gambling treatment providers. I now work as an independent practitioner and although I still treat men too, I specialize in women and gambling addiction. I am not a scientific researcher, so everything I speak about, write about and most of my treatment practices are based on the findings of my extensive practice. Over the years I have been taught by working ‘at the coal face’ what gambling addiction really is about and what really does help to stop addictive gambling.

2. Is a gambling addiction to online casinos really any different than to someone who has a gambling addiction that plays at land based casinos? When someone has an addiction to land based casino games, they might be addicted to one particular game because of the specific activities involved. They are more likely to describe getting addicted to the excitement of playing. They are likely to have an audience and maybe enjoy aspects of that, such as being seen as a winner. And of course, an audience of friends is a helpful way to monitor play does not get out of hand. When someone has an addiction to online casino games they describe the game they play is less important, it could almost be any game. More than highs and lows, they are addicted to the absorption offered from staring at the screen and being online. They are unlikely to have a live audience of friends and family who might call ‘time out’ if their play gets out of hand, so it is much easier to lose track of time and money spent. I have spoken with a professional poker player who told me that he feels playing at land based casino tables and playing online are completely different and he is more concerned about his online playing potentially getting out of hand. Especially if he plays online when he is feeling low and needs a bit of escapism.

3. Now that players can gamble more often on their mobile phones do you feel this is contributing to increased rates of gambling addiction as players now have 24/7 access to a casino? What I see in my work is that is that 24/7 access certainly makes recovery from gambling addiction much harder. If someone uses gambling as a mean of getting away from dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings and they have an argument with a partner, a hard day at the office, instead of heading to the pub for a pint, they pick up their phone and drown out their thoughts and feelings in the online casino. When someone is in early gambling recovery cravings are every bit as strong as those for the drug addict going through withdrawal. Gambling on your mobile phone feels like carrying cocaine in your pocket when you are trying to give it up. All the will power in the world is going to make that difficult to resist.

4. It seems that worldwide there are more land based casinos opening up all the time, what problems do you see happening when more casinos start appearing all over the place? Of course, it only makes sense that more gambling opportunities mean that potentially more people might give gambling a go and find that for them it leads to problem gambling. On the whole, however, land based casinos are social places, where it might be easier for a potential gambling problem to be spotted early by friends, family or by casino staff trained in identifying the signs of problem gambling.

5. Toronto was a major city that not long ago rejected having a casino in the city, which ironically enough was spearheaded by mayor Rob Ford, whom we all know is battling his own addictions with drugs and alcohol, what advice do you have for Toronto residents and surrounding for why the city is probably better off without a casino in the city. 

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Well, I am not sure that I could honestly say to the people of Toronto that they are all better off without a casino. Not everybody who enters a casino will get addicted to gambling. I sometimes go myself, play the odd game of roulette and enjoy it. Sometimes I go with friends to see a show and enjoy a pleasant, safe environment for evening entertainment. Those who develop gambling problems or drug or alcohol problems, tend to do so because they have problems in life and are using their addiction to try to cope with, for example, stress, anxiety and depression. The positives for those people is that a 1.5 hour drive might slow things down if experiencing cravings to gamble and buy them some time to seek support to maintain recovery. It may of course also mean that some people may never have that first experience of a high from a win that could hook them in to craving more.

6. What are your tips for players that have a gambling problem and don't know what to do or where to start to try to overcome their addiction? It is normal to feel in battle with yourself; one part wanting to stop gambling, another part wanting to continue. Tell a trusted family member or friend that you have a gambling problem and want to stop. Accountability helps. Limit/prevent your access to gambling through your accounts. Ask someone you trust to manage your money for a while. Taking away your ability to gamble will not take away your cravings to gamble. That will take time. Stay busy and in company for the first few weeks. If you struggle with your cravings and withdrawal symptoms seek professional help.

7. What is the advice you have for people that have friends or family that have a gambling problem, what is the best way for them to handle the situation to help them get out without having the situation blow up? Experience has taught me that for families and friends, knowledge is power. They are naturally scared because they do not understand what gambling addiction is about. They imagine their loved one is gambling out of pure selfishness or greed. They take it personally. Seek out basic information on gambling addiction Whatever the person with the problem may say to you at the time, financial support/bailout rarely is helpful and only prolongs the problem. The most valuable support you can give is the listening and emotional kind Remember this is happening to you too. You are allowed your own feelings. Seek professional support if you are struggling. working with womens groups for problem gambling

8. Tell us about your most recent book published, Working with Women's Groups for Problem Gambling: Treating gambling addiction through relationship. ‘Working With Women’s Groups for Problem Gambling’ follows the real life, inspiring stories of a recovery group I worked with over one year. It describes in plain English terms how for so many women gambling addiction is triggered by the stresses and strains of everyday life and relationships which leave them stressed, depressed and anxious. Gambling online and on slots is a way of escaping these problems, which then of course leads to another problem. For long term recovery from gambling addiction it is essential to have good life and relationship skill and my book explains how group work is so helpful for this and is full of ideas for successful long term recovery.

9. Do you have any shocking stories or facts to share of experiences you have encountered over the years related to gambling addiction? A sad fact is that 74% of the women I have treated for gambling addiction have been single mothers, or lived alone. This means that unsupported, they are more vulnerable to the stress and depression that can lead to gambling online as an escape, it is for them a form of self medication. Because they live alone, it is easier for gambling to get out of hand and for the problem just to continue.

10. Aside from reading your books, what information would you want our readers to take with them from this article and about learning more about gambling problems. I would like people to understand that problem gambling is not all about greed, winning money or just being naive about the odds. The obsession with money is a consequence of gambling addiction, once all has been lost. What hooks someone in initially are the feelings they get from gambling; be it the highs and lows or the total escape through absorption. Problem gambling is usually triggered by life problems.

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