Each year in November, we honor veterans and recognize the countless contributions they make toward protecting and building a stronger nation. November is a great time to heighten our focus on the behavioral health needs of veterans. One area within behavioral health that receives less attention is problem gambling, often referred to as the “hidden addiction,” though the repercussions of problem gambling can be severe including physical, financial, emotional, and relational impacts.
Although gambling is a popular activity both among the wider U.S. population and among the military and veteran community, gambling also brings with it the risk of developing problems or a gambling disorder. Gambling disorder is a condition that is identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to…significant impairment or distress.”[i]
U.S. veterans have been found to have higher rates of gambling disorder compared to the civilian population and are at an increased risk for problem gambling behaviors. A gambling disorder often occurs with other conditions, such as trauma-related conditions, substance use, and suicidality in the military-affiliated population.[ii] For veterans, the following factors may increase the risk of developing a problem:
- Veterans tend to have higher rates of homelessness.[iii]
- Military personnel tend to be less likely to seek help if they think they may be developing a problem.
- Disorders such as post-traumatic stress and substance use increase the risk of developing a gambling disorder.
Gambling can become a problem when it:
- Replaces or reduces participation in other activities.
- Interferes with relationships.
- Impacts a person’s physical or mental health.
- Causes financial harm.
Screening for problem gambling is especially important when veterans present in healthcare settings for physical or mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use.
If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulties due to gambling, call the Virginia helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER or 1-888-532-3500.
[i] American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
[ii] Etuk, R., Shirk, S. D., Grubbs, J., & Kraus, S. W. (2020). Gambling problems in U.S. military Veterans. Current Addiction Reports, 7, 210-228
[iii] Health Services Research and Development. (2020, January). Identifying and measuring risk for homelessness among Veterans. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Retrieved 11/6/2023 https://www.hsrd.research.va.gov/news/feature/homelessness-2020.cfm