Facing the challenge: Addictions surface in times of crisis

Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Jo Ann De Young

Throughout history northwest Iowans have been known to be individuals who tend to not talk about what's really troubling them.

Instead of dealing with their problems through conversation with others, drinking and using drugs became a way of coping for some during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Because of this, the Northwest Iowa Alcoholism and Drug Treatment Unit (ADTU) saw a surge in the number of clients it treated during the 1980s and early 1990s.

"And probably the people who were sicker," said Jo Ann De Young, ADTU's CEO. "We were seeing more people because when things like that begin to happen, individuals will turn to, perhaps, alcohol or drugs to deaden the pain, to deaden the effect of what's going on in their lives."

Addiction ensued when use turned to abuse for some individuals.

Mike Getz

With recent talks positioning the nation in the midst of a recession, De Young and Mike Getz, the Spencer unit's gambling project manager, predicted gambling and credit card usage may also increase as individuals attempt to either "deaden the pain" or make a quick dollar in order to relieve themselves of their financial worries.

"In a recession, there's going to be a lot of things happening, which are going to cause a lot of emotion. And really," Getz said, "that's how people a lot of times end up in addiction -- because of their emotions,

their feeling of inadequacy or low self-esteem or just not being able to deal with what's happening in their life.

"With all these problems that are going on now with the recession, as with any type of an addiction, you go to something that makes you feel good -- or supposedly feel good -- to take your mind off it. With that said, it would make sense that gambling will be on the rise again too."

Both Getz and De Young indicate addictions can easily turn into multiple addictions if people aren't careful.

"Some people are so intent on trying to not falter on their known addiction that they can actually become addicted to something else," Getz forewarned. "Alcohol and gambling, for example, go hand in hand. Whether you're playing cards, dice, poker or going to the casinos, you always see people drinking."

Unlike substance abuse, the tricky thing with problem gambling is it often remains "hidden" for some time.

"We normally don't see (gambling) clients until it's gotten really bad, until it's so out of control that there might have been legal problems where they've stole money from friends or family, embezzled from work or something like that," Getz said. "Crimes with gambling tend not to be violent crimes; they're more about stealing."

He also noted that gambling problems don't necessarily have to mean losing large amounts of money betting at casinos or various sporting events; they can occur with "more quick-fix" items such as pull tabs and Powerball tickets.

"We live in a society where it's purchase, purchase, purchase -- and people have become very dependent upon credit cards," De Young said.

"A lot of people when they're gambling now, they're using credit cards," added Getz. "I ran across some statistics recently, and it's between 50 and 70 percent that their credit card debt is over $5,000 due to gambling."

When asked what an individual can do in order to not run into problems with gambling or anything else which may turn into an addiction, Getz answered, "One of the ways you can really try to help yourself is to first realize you have feelings. And then, if you realize you're not dealing with them in a healthy way, you've got to own up to that and to those unhealthy things. Then you've got to try and find ways to deal with them in a healthy way; whether that's exercising, going out and doing things with people who will not lead you astray or talking. But you have to realize it first, and a lot of times people don't realize it until they're already in it."

It also helps if people reach out early on, when they're first experiencing troubles.

"If these people can be seen early on, then they don't get so far into the addiction," De Young said. "We're not here to bail them out; we're here to give them some tools to continue to live in a healthy way.

"And we aren't the only game in town. There are pastors. There is (Seasons Center for Community Mental Health). There are some private therapists who are willing to see people."

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