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America's Favorite Addiction

making a difference in a world of indifferents

Common Sense is Power to Introduce Positive Change

 Education Can Even Be the Solution to a Gambling Habit


Common Sense?  Gambling Taught Me A Lot About Addiction

I was seven years old when the pastor of our church in Philadelphia refused to fulfill my motherís heart-wrenching pleas for him to speak with my father, a compulsive gambler who had been using his paychecks to "feed the ponies" as my mother would say.   Then he would borrow money from loan sharks afterwards to continue his habit.  I wanted more than anything to be able to do something to help our situation.  My brother, eight years my senior and top student in his class, chose to remain aloof from family matters, so I speculated this was an ideal opportunity for me to learn more about my fatherís problem as the first step in providing a resolution. 

 I started generating ideas of how my  mother could stop my father from diverting his paycheck from being delivered to our house so my mother could use it to pay the mortgage and life's necessities.  When my mother surmised that my father must be getting his check from the mailman, I asked my mother why she just doesn't ask the mailman himself.  At first, my mother feared that if she asked Danny, our mailman, he might tell my father.  After all, it was his paycheck, and back then in the 1960s, there was more emphasis on protocol than on logic.   But I disagreed.  First of all, no one likes to be the object of a lie.  Second, who would Danny side with, a compulsive gambler with a fabricated hard luck story who can't wait fifteen minutes until the mailman comes to the house, or a woman trying to feed her kids and pay the mortgage. HELLO!  It's common sense.  Of course Danny was very sympathetic to my mother.  From that day, he never gave the paycheck to my father but delivered it right to the house where he and my mother would spend 30 minutes talking about it.  And soon, my mother had the whole neighborhood clued in on what my father was doing.  My philosophy was that the more people know about an injustice the more attention it will generate.  But that's where I learned my first lesson about addiction:  You can't embarrass someone out of an addictive behavior when that person has no control over their actions.  Likewise, you can't punish them because they won't be able to do anything to stop it. 

Regardless what has been said about addiction, I disagree that it is mental illness.  From what I've seen through throughout my life, psychological-based addiction is a misguided response to societal pressures.  It is therefore powerful learned behavior that the brain reasons will solve a problem because it is delivered as a solution from someone who is trustworthy.  It is evoked through a complexity of illogical thought processes that stem from a person's belief that what they are doing is the right thing even when there is evidence that it is not.  I know that now having been lured into gambling myself.   Sure gambling is self-destructive, but even if you've never won a dime, the idea that you can turn $20 into $200 or even more is a lure, particularly for someone in the right position.  By right position, I'm referring to those who don't work or work at jobs that don't pay enough to earn all the things that advertising tells us we must have.  Middle-age is the time when many people turn to gambling, although you can be any age.  I was 12 years old when I turned $.50 into $2.50 and then walked away with nothing.  The reason why is simple greed and the pressure to make more.  We live in a nation which demonstrates every day that bigger is better, winners are in and losers are out. 

So what does gambling have to do with drugs?  A lot.  And only because our society has turned using drugs into a gambling venture.  And in a land where bigger is better, more is better than less.  So uneducated drug users continue down the same path that amateur gamblers roam.  

After over a year of losing at the casino, do you think it would be easy for a gambler to stop? Of course not!  It's not easy for a drug abuser to stop either.  Once someone crosses that threshold without an ounce of education, they are gone. Gambling is impulsive, just like drug abuse.  It can be controlled and it can be contained.  All it takes is education.   

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to the Spa Resort & Casino here in Palm Spring.  I addressed it to Richard Melanovich, the chairperson of the Cahuilla Band of Indians.  The Indians operate the Agua Caliente Reservation which means "hot water" and is appropriately named because many local casino goers find themselves in that before long.  My offer was rather substantial.   The self-destructive nature of addiction, therefore, is triggered by a person's inability to resolve the underlying cause.  The only way to stall an addiction is to understand the root cause and recognize that no matter how many times the behavior is repeated, it will not produce an optimal, long-lasting result.  As simple as that sounds, it is nearly impossible to do since the problem is generally societal, and addiction is the genetic response.  Most midlife crisis winds up with an addiction because the brain realizes that a pattern of behavior is the only way that knows might lead to satisfaction.   In other words, the goal of attaining material possessions doesn't become one of putting aside money and earning them, but rather to assume this is going to be that lucky day or the perfect high, and from that all things will be resolved.  The fact that it's costing you everything in your life is more reason to dig a hole that gets deeper and deeper until only sudden dramatic personal illness, death or death of someone close motivates the addict to thinking differently.  

There's No Way to Prevent Addiction But There Is a Way to Prevent Abuse 

Sooner or later, we all become addicted to something.  Addictions come and go.  They are a part of life.  The problem is not with addiction but rather with abusing the object of addiction.  Going to the casino every day to play one dollar is a lot harder than not going at all.  It's even easier to play $10 or $100.  The problem is, if you depend on that money for living expenses, you may be out of luck.  I used to think that just realizing how much money goes into the casinos and the hordes of money these people make would be reason enough to stay away, but it isn't that easy.  First of all, somebody's going to walk away with a lot of cash, why can't that be you? 

You know the answer.  For everyone that walks into a casino and wins, there are hundreds who walk out losers. And that is no exaggeration.  The payoff for a slot machine is so minimal that when casino-goers think they are having a lucky streak, they are willing to pour the money they just earned right back into the machines.  Again, this is what we learn in the US.  While addictive behavior may be genetic, abuse is learned behavior... or rather, unlearned.  

During the last six months, I taught several casino-goers some rules about gambling. Surprisingly, not one of them has gone back to the casino since then.  The reason, they tell me,  is because the online gambling program I gave them, was teaching them that they couldn't win.  And if they couldn't win at home, they weren't about to go back to the casino.  Most of the online slot machines are geared to drive you into the casino.  Not mine.  It's a realistic authentic program that matches a slot machine in the casino with few payoffs to the user and plenty of overhead.  

Medication should NOT be a gambling game.  Unfortunately, the war on drugs has turned it into that.  Imagine what our world would be like if the original inventors of the horseless carriage (or what we call today cars) had their way.  When cars were first introduced, they were only owned by the wealthy.  There were no rules about driving and  there were few road that could accommodate them.  No roads at that time were smooth enough.  In fact cobblestones were just about as smooth as one could get.  Then Ford came along and started mass producing cars for a price that everyone could afford.  Someone with common sense thought about driver's education and the automobile industry has been improving ever since.  

You would have thought that by now, someone from the medical community would have thought: "Hey! Why don't we educate the general public how to use this stuff?"  But the medical community is quite different from the auto industry. To understand this, we have to look at our culture.

Priorities in the American LifeStyle 

Anyone who says that contemporary American are greatly influenced by their Puritanical past have missed the boat.  The boat that brought our families here. Puritans may have been the early settlers during the colonial days, but they were only a small fraction of the populations that continually come here from all over the world.  From 1600 to even today, the largest percentage of our population came here to escape persecution of one kind or another elsewhere.  Initially, this was religious persecution, but there were other reasons.  Then there were the opportunists who saw opportunity in specifically the tobacco industry.  These were mostly the sons of wealthy Europeans.  They introduced slavery to the South.  At that time, slavery was becoming less acceptable in Europe.  Because of Queen Isabella, the American natives were free from slavery.  It was Isabella's command that the Indians not be captured and used as slaves. Her orders were obviously obeyed, and instead, African natives were shipped to the colonies.  In each town that popped up from New England to the Georigia, there was scarcely anyone who knew medicine.  Even as primitive as it was, a doctor an apothocary were among the most respected in the town.  Americans were always in awe of physicians.   As wealth accumulated following the Industrial Revolution, medical schools began to spring up everywhere.  In those days, God was the most important aspect of life, therefore the clergy were idolized.  Second to clergy were physicians, third, bankers... and so on.  

About 1900, physicians became more prevalent.  Standards were established and the medical community in America flourished competitively with European doctors.  However, in Eur And finally, there we  The majority of these people were considered misfits in the Old World.  In the New World, many of them found progress the US, physicians are idolized more than any other person in any other industry.  Physicians are empowered by some ambiguous divine right.  Not that they shouldn't be, but do they deserve to be?  self-medicate, a bad drug could have consequences.   Theoretically, addictions can be prevented very easily but they must be programmed correctly.   Just like the body responds to a vaccine, the brain can be made to avert addiction.  In a a vaccine, the actual "product" being diverted is fed into the body in a weakened state.  For example, a virus is introduced such that the body is able to develop a defense against it.  The reason why drug addiction has never been diverted is because the strategies we use never expose the victim to the actual problem.  For most individuals, "Just Say 'NO'" is completely pointless.  First of all, a drug dealer is never going to approach a victim and say: "Hi, I'm a drug dealer and I want you to try something that is really cool."  In that case, one could easily say "NO!"  But drug dealers are far more sophisticated.  They are not stranger to their victims.  They are usually friends who don't deal drugs.  They rarely ask someone or tell someone to do something.  They show them.  In fact, the typical way a child gets involved with drugs is not through a drug dealer but by seeing a pleasurable outcome that someone gets from using a drug.  

Let's take a story like Jack and Jill.  We all know that Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pale of water.  Then Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.  First of all, Jack being the leader, it's really less important how Jack feels about Jill.  Jack might care a lot about Jill or have no feelings at all.  What is important is that Jill has at least some bit of respect for Jack.  She might like the cool way he dresses or she might have this mad, passionate infatuation.  But to make the association with Jack less of a bond, let's say that Jill just met Jack and likes something about him.  Jack and Jill get together for lunch or to work on a project. They are alone and Jack is feeling really good.  Jill likes what she sees and wants to know what's gotten into Jack.  But Jack may be evasive.  He may even try to blow Jill off. Maybe Jack meets up with one or a few friends who share the same connected behavior.  Jill surmises it's drugs, but because her genuine curiosity is so strong, she is compelled to ask, even beg, Jack to let her inside Jack's circle.  By this point, "No" is not a word in Jill's vocabulary when it comes to Jack.  She wants to feel what Jack is feeling and will go to all lengths to get there.  This desire to "feel groovy", "feel awesome"... etc. may not be as clearly worded today as it once was, but that doesn't change the feeling.  At some point, Jack will break down and will show Jill what to do and how to do it, but he will most likely be concerned that she doesn't do so much, maybe not because Jack has any affinity for Jill, but because he is merely selfish.  But Jill might not "get off" on the dose that Jack gave her or Jack might not be as sensible and might want "to get Jill off" for whatever reason.  But because all that Jill has been told is to Just Say "NO", she has now exceeded to a level where she is on her own.

Jill's experience might be a bad one, in which case she will go back to her friends and tell them the story and walk away from it -- thus, her friends who like Jack may now be infected by the competitive nature of the situation are all candidates to be caught in the web of addiction, and eventually, this might intrigue Jill to return to Jack.  Regardless, without propositioning anyone, Jack has swarms of teenagers pulled over to his side.  

If Jill's experience is a good one, she is more likely not to share the secret, on the other hand, for a teenage girl to keep a secret, it's quite difficult.  Then again, because we live under the oppression of the Patriot Act, Jill will be careful to conceal who she tells.  When Jill's doctor asks her if she does drugs, Jill will remember what she learned and will "Just Say 'NO'".   Thus, Jack pulls Jill into a situation, which is carefully orchestrated and one day, Jack may be long gone but Jill discovers that no matter what, she can't get out.  The the fact is, she may not even want to get out. 

Had Jill learned more about the drugs that Jack was using, she would have had multiple opportunities to get herself out.  Furthermore, had Jill spent one semester working with patients the hospital who might be using drugs and suffering from multiple problems.  Jill's association with those from the hospital would have strengthed her ability to resist Jack's temptation.  The more honest that her healthcare support system is, the better off Jill is in making a decision that is the right choice.  Should Jill still decide to use the drug, it will be on her terms only.  She will know what dose level is good for her and will command control over the situation which is more than anyone can ask.  Whaterver she decides to do, Jill will not let herself be led into a destructive situation. Everything will be under her terms, and she will be able to speak freely and openly with her doctor about it.  A good doctor will not force Jill to make a certain decision, but will warn her of the consequences.  Given this situation, Jill is least likely to become an addict because she knows that's a state which interferes with her plans for the future.     

The way to stop a gambling addiction or a drug addiction is much the same.  You have to address the root problem directly and fix it.  Once it's fixed, the addiction becomes more manageable.  The problem is that the longer the behavior is repeated, the less likely it's going to go away.  The question is: When does a behavior become an addiction and not a solution.  For this, I have my own definition:  An addiction is a repeated behavior that cannot be controlled even though it may be resulting in harm to the individuals involveed or to those around them.  The underlying cause must be found and corrected before the addiction can be stopped. 

In my father's case, other physical illness occurred that reshaped his quest for winning a pot of gold.  



There's a group that puts citizens with a commitment to change at the top of it all.  Your local AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Community Advisory Board (CAB) is dedicated to the process for promoting changes to not only drug treatments but hearing your concerns about how your local AIDS  organization is operating to meet the needs of the AIDS community. 

If you want to spark changes in the way that HIV/AIDS organizations are doing business or if you have an idea about improving AIDS research, or even if you just want to learn and get involved, join your local AACTG CAB... become a member... learn about the latest developments in drug treatments, nutrition, and where to get access to the programs you need to maintain a quality of life that suits your interest, make a visit to your local CAB.  Each CAB holds monthly meetings and sponsors trips to conferences and seminars.  The cost is FREE and your transportation and hotel accommodations to conferences are covered.

If you cannot attend a CAB meeting, contact the US Department of Health & Human Services and let them hear your voice.  Turn your ideas and opinions into reality.  The changes you introduce could help not only you but all of us.


Copyright C 2007