Taking Back Your Life
Diane Rae Davis

Diane Rae Davis published this book as a follow up to a piece of research she did back in 2000/2001. She reported that up to that date, little had been written on the specific subject of women and problem gambling, ie the extent of the problem in the United States, the differences between how the spectre of problem and pathological gambling can affect women differently from men, what the catalysts were, considerations connected with lower levels of economic independence, those of family responsibilities, effects on relationships, common societal views of women gamblers and how the inevitable fallout and costs hit home. The research work the author instigated took the form of an online survey, and this was subsequently completed by 264 respondents, of whom 136 had abstained from gambling for at least six months. Of these, 15 were subsequently interviewed face-to-face in order to put a personal story behind the survey response. The average level of personal debt across the 264 respondents was $46,670 at the time they completed the survey.

This book is 217 page but covers a great deal. Within it there are chapters dedicated to discussing when recreational gambling becomes problematic and then pathological (together with definitions of these for consistency), triggers that cause individuals to cross the line, commonly used first stage screening questionnaires, the different approaches to tackling the issue (ie without any external intervention, personal counselling, via group support etc), the fifteen individuals' own stories and how they managed to check their addictions and take their lives back.

Group therapy via Gamblers Anonymous meetings, and the twelve steps programme GA recommend individuals follow, receives particular attention, and this avenue, when followed in conjunction with professional counselling, is held up as being particularly robust and effective in addressing problem gambling behaviour. Apparently GA does have its critics though, as one of the twelve steps is "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." - OK if you believe in God of course, but if you're atheist or agnostic the various references to God or a "greater power" might just undermine your faith in the whole thing as an approach that'll help you to remain abstinent and progress through recovery (relying on a belief in a deity). There are also considerations given to the practical side of GA; finding a meeting within reasonable travelling distance, getting there, fitting in to the group etc; most were reported to consist mainly of men and 25% of those women who attended a GA meeting stated that were left feeling intimidated and out of place - "The men didn't think slot players were real gamblers" and "I'm a women, so they ignored me the first three months".

The final chapter of this book is entitled "Maintaining Recovery" and focusses on what steps the respondees took to ensure they didn't fall back into their previous destructive cycles of behaviour. One of the chief ones is to "Put barriers between you and gambline", ie stay away from bookies, casinos, places that have gaming machines etc. - big problem nowdays with the explosion in online gambling since the survey was conducted and just about everyone now having access to it either in their pocket or handbag via their mobile 'phone. Another is how to deal with the inevitable relapses, and to maintain a mindset that frames these as isolated incidents that don't have to be the start of a systematic or regular pattern of behaviour.

Overall a very good read. Something I think everyone who punts recreationally should read, even if it's just to be aware of where it can lead if it all gets out of hand. As the book discusses, some people gamble recreationally, and without problem, for many years before something triggers a change that sets them on a different, darker, path. It can happen to anyone and so it makes sense to be aware of the risks if you do partake and to be aware of factors that may indicate a movement down the slope.

At the time of publication Diane Rae Davis was professor at the School of Social Work and Human Services at Eastern Washington University (Washington state). She has also co-authored Addiction Treatment which was originally published in 2002, and has been updated three times - with the fourth edition being published in 2017.

June 2020.