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Gambling With Addiction

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So when does a fun fling at the casino slot machine become a problem that requires attention?

Petry says there are red flags the gambler can notice herself, even before anyone else does. "When people start feeling guilty about how much they are gambling or start covering up how much they are spending, that's an early warning sign," she tells WebMD.

Participation in Gamblers Anonymous, or GA, modeled on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, is widely encouraged at all centers for treatment of gambling disorders. But Petry cautions that the female bingo player or slot machine junkie can sometimes find herself alienated at GA meetings heavily populated by men who have lost thousands at the casino and the racetrack.

"A lot of women would find themselves a fish out of water," she says. But she urges women who think they are getting in trouble not to be deterred, and adds that GA meetings are becoming more open to women as the numbers seeking treatment increase.

For Karen, the bottom dropped out in 1979 after an all-night binge at the card club in Gardenia. "I called Gamblers Anonymous, mostly to get my husband off my back," she recalls. "They told me to try coming to meetings for 90 days, and after that I could have my misery back."

Today, Karen says she hasn't placed a bet in 21 years and five months. "It was like magic," she says of the meetings. "But you can't help someone who doesn't want help. Up until that point, I didn't want help."

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