Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is a twelve-step program for people that have a gambling problem. It began in Los Angeles on September 13, 1957. As of 2005 there were over 1000 GA meetings in the United States and meetings established in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Kenya, Uganda, Korea and Japan. The only requirement for GA membership is a desire to stop gambling. Aside from financial insecurity, problem gambling has been shown to cause dysfunctional families, legal problems, employment difficulties, psychological distress and higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide. Less than 10% of those with gambling problems seek treatment for the syndrome. Family members and loved ones of compulsive gamblers attend Gam-Anon, another 12 step, self-help program founded in 1958. There are meetings all over the world. In Gam-Anon members learn to understand the compulsive gambling problem and its impact on their lives, and learn how to give emotional support to the compulsive gambler while not enabling the gambler in his/her illness. GA and Gam-Anon cooperate with each other in their efforts to help the compulsive gambler and loved ones. Children of loved ones can attend Gam-A-Teen, part of the Gam-Anon program. The Gam-Anon website is www.gam-anon.org. The Gamblers Anonymous (GA) website is www.gamblersanonymous.org.
Problem gambling is estimated to occur in 1.6% of the adult population in the United States. GA has a list of twenty questions that can be used to self-diagnose compulsive gambling. The results from their instrument have correlated strongly with other tests that screen for compulsive gambling (e.g. the Total Sensation Seeking Scale, Boredom Susceptibility, Experience Seeking, South Oaks Gambling Screen, and Disinhibition subscales).
Compared to problem gamblers who do not attend GA, GA members tend to have more severe gambling problems, are older, have higher incomes, are less likely to be single, have more years of gambling problems, have larger debts, have more serious family conflicts, and less serious substance abuse problems. GA may not be as effective for those who have not had significant gambling problems. GA is effective to prevent "relapses" (inability to remain abstinent from gambling), but not as effective when helping members deal with the consequences of their relapse.
GA spends much of its time and energy counseling members on how to deal with financial and legal problems. GA supports "pressure relief groups" where members take each other to task and encourage them to "get honest" with people in their lives and get their affairs in order. Gamblers who are able to moderate their activity are not likely to continue attending GA meetings. GA members who stopped attending meetings were more likely to consider the sharing at the meetings "meaningless" and were more critical of GA literature. Those who felt particularly elated at their first GA meetings were less likely to continue than those who had a more balanced first impression. GA, therefore, may be most suitable for severe problem gamblers who do not have compounding issues.
Less than 8% of those who initially attend GA remain in the program and abstinent from gambling for over a year. Program participation and abstinence increase if members are involved in additional therapy, or if one or more of their family members are involved in Gam-Anon or Gam-A-Teen.
Although the likelihood of attending GA is the same for males and females, GA has been characterized as a predominately male fellowship. The number of female members, however, is increasing and there is an increasing sensitivity within GA to women's attitudes. GA's lack of appeal towards females has been attributed to GA's lack of focus on the principles of spirituality in other twelve-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). A causal link, however, has not been shown. GA is often described as more secularized than AA.
Among problem gamblers, it has been found that women are more focused on interpersonal issues, and that social issues were more likely to cause them to "relapse." Males more frequently discuss "external concerns" such as jobs and legal problems, and are more likely to relapse because of substance abuse. Therefore, it does seem plausible that GA's downplaying of spiritual, interpersonal, and psychoemotional issues, inhibits its effectiveness for women.
Gamblers Anonymous has several approved books used as standard literature in the group, these most popular five.
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