Trading Addictions

 In Recovery Stories

Like many alcoholics I traded my alcoholism for another addiction. Sadly, I chose to ignore the warning given by Dr. Russell Smith about trading one addiction for another.

It was in 1978, but in so many ways it feels like it was just last week. All the patients were gathered in the Chapel at Brighton Hospital to hear a lecture given by Dr. Russell Smith. He told the patients that his biggest concern for us was that we would leave the addiction that brought us into the treatment and eventually end up trading our addiction for another. I will never forget how he stated it.

He said, “You people must understand that if you can drink it, if you can smoke it, if you can snort it, if you can inject it, if you can roll it (referring to dice and gambling), you are the ones who can become addicted to it. Stay away from it.”

I chose to follow all the advice given by Dr. Smith except the part about gambling. As a result of that decision, I spent my 23rd, 24th and 25th years of sobriety in Jackson Prison. I am a compulsive gambler.

I started out as a social gambler. It would take about fifteen years for me to cross the line into problem and then compulsive gambling. My wife and I usually took a yearly trip to Vegas, the Bahamas, or some other gambling destination. I loved playing the role of the high roller. From the very beginning I was not honest about my gambling. If I lost money, I just didn’t tell her. Withholding information from a person with the specific intent of deceiving that person is a lie. The foundation of every addiction is built upon lies.

Everything changed in 1994 with the opening of Casino Windsor. Many gambling studies have been done based on the proximity of a casino to the gambler. One of those studies showed that problems associated with compulsive gambling doubled within a fifty to sixty mile radius of a casino. Casino Windsor was 50 miles from Howell. In the beginning I would go over to Windsor a couple of days a week and spend $300 a day. I never told anybody I was going.

Gambling is called the hidden addiction. I was very good at hiding the fact that I was gambling. Over the next few years it only got worse. I was spending more time at the casino and of course losing more money. I finally found myself in a financial dilemma where I owed a lot of money and needed funds to support my addiction. At one point I “borrowed” money from my clients escrow account. That day was the beginning of the end.

The chains of addiction are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken! The two greatest dangers facing a problem gambler are proximity of the gambling venue and access to funds. In a few short years my once perfect life was destroyed. The first time I took money out of that escrow account I knew it was only a matter of time before everything collapsed around me. I have come to discover that this is somewhat of a common ending for many compulsive gamblers. Total devastation.

Today I travel around the United States speaking to lawyers about trading addictions and compulsive gambling. My book, Never Enough: One Lawyers True Story of How He Gambled His Career Away, has been published by the American Bar Association. The proceeds from the books go to my victims. Twenty percent of lawyers suffer from addiction and mental health issues. Seventy-five percent of compulsive gamblers come from a substance abuse background.

My message to the recovering alcoholics is never gamble.

My message to the problem gambler is never drink. They both think I am “mistaken” or even “nuts.” My response is simple. Addiction is addiction is addiction.

I am often confronted after one of my talks by the recovering attorney seeking my advice about his/her particular gambling. The story is almost always the same. I am told that they only take a certain amount of money to the casino and if they lose that money they quit and go home. I tell them that is exactly what I did – in the beginning. What most people who do not suffer from addiction do not understand, is that in the beginning addiction works. If we can convince people who are in recovery not to gamble, we can make substantial progress in the devastation caused by compulsive gambling. The task is to convince that population who is predisposed to developing a gambling problem to never begin gambling in the first place.

If you are a person in recovery or come from a family history of addiction, my simple advice to you is, do not gamble. If you have friends in recovery who are gambling, please advise them not to gamble. Sixty-six percent of compulsive gamblers will steal money to finance their gambling addiction or to take care of problems created by their gambling. Gamblers convince themselves that they are going to borrow the money until they can pay it back. Compulsive gambling has nothing to do with winning or losing money. The only thing that matters to the gambler is being “in action.”

The first time you become aware that someone you know has a gambling problem may be when a divorce is filed, a bankruptcy is filed, a home is foreclosed , criminal charges are filed, or a suicide is attempted. This could be too late.

If you or anyone you know is in need of help because of a gambling problem, the Lawyers’ Assistance Program can put you in touch with me.


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