‘Gambling addiction is disease, but curable’

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - In medical terms, gambling addiction: is called “pathological gambling” or “gambling disorder.” The World Health Organization defines it as a disorder in which a person frequently gambles and gambling dominates their life, undermining their life, job and family values. According to a survey by a Health ministry research team, an estimated 5.36 million people in Japan are suspected of suffering from gambling addictions.

“Gambling addiction (see below) is a disease,” said Noriko Tanaka, president of an organisation engaged in education activities concerning gambling addiction, at a symposium in Tokyo recently. 

“However, I want many people to know that it is curable, and create a society in which early consultation and treatment for it are offered,” Tanaka said, stressing the necessity of measures to deal with the problem. 

 The emergency symposium on gambling addiction was held at the Members’ Office Building of the House of Councillors before the Diet passage on Dec. 15 of a bill to lift the ban on casino gambling and promote so-called integrated resorts. Attendees included lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties.

 Tanaka, 52, established the Society Concerned about the Gambling Addiction in 2014 and has been offering advice to families of gambling addicts and holding lecture meetings to talk about the disease.

 Noriko and her husband Keiji, 46, suffered from gambling addiction. Struggling with domestic problems, debt and self-hatred, she said she thought about committing suicide many times.

Absorbed in gambling

 Noriko’s parents divorced because of her father’s gambling habit. When she was a child, she began living with her mother and grandparents at her grandparents’ home in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward. Her grandfather never worked and went to a pachinko parlor every morning. 

He often took her with him, and loud, rousing music and pachinko balls were part of her daily life. 
 “I grew up without a negative image of gambling,” she said.

 Noriko’s mother was managing her grandparents’ variety store alone, but their lives were tough. 
“So my mother pinned high hopes on my future. I started to become disobedient because that annoyed me,” she said. During her high school and junior college days, she skipped classes to go to a mah-jongg parlor.

 At one point she was able to stop gambling. 

However, she got absorbed in it again after she met Keiji at a pub where she was working part-time when she was 30. She was also working at a university hospital as a part-time employee at that time.

 One day, Noriko drank with Keiji until early in the morning after finishing her part-time job at the pub. “Let’s go to a boat race now,” Keiji said. 

It was her first time, and the sound of motors and a lot of gamblers gathering around tipsters filled the air — everything was so exciting.
 Until Noriko and Keiji married four years later, they were hooked on gambling. They bought betting tickets on the phone while they were at work and went on dates to boat races. They once lost as much as ¥2 million on boat races in a single day.

 Most of their salaries were used to repay consumer loans. Tired of such a life, they finally stopped gambling after they married — at least that’s what Noriko thought.

Sense of hopelessness

 However, Keiji continued secretly gambling and repeatedly borrowed money from consumer loan companies and his friends. Noriko angrily told him to stop gambling many times, but he did not.

 One day he cried on a subway train on the way to work, saying: “I can’t stop [gambling] by myself. There is nothing I can do about it. It’s a disease.” Noriko asked him, “Is there such a disease?”

 Half in doubt, they visited a psychology clinic, where a doctor told her, “Your husband has a disease called gambling addiction.” The doctor said Noriko had the same condition too.

 Gambling had been always around her. “I can’t escape it,” she thought. “I can’t have a happy life.” Filled with hopelessness, she started to drown her anxiety with shopping. She took antidepressants and tranquilizers.

 For four years after she realized she had the disease, she thought about dying when she had nothing to do.

Moving forward

 However, a turning point in her life suddenly arrived.

 After Noriko was diagnosed with gambling addiction, she joined a self-help group in which she could talk about the disease with people in the same situation.

 When Noriko said, “I want to die,” one of the group’s members told her, “Saying that means you want someone to stop you, and you actually want to live.” She felt as if the member had guessed exactly what was on her mind.

 Noriko realized what she wanted was to accept the past and become more forward-looking. She then tried hard to work out a program to recover from gambling addiction.

 At the Dec. 9 symposium, Keiji said: “I was afraid to stop gambling. I was able to get out of it [gambling] thanks to my wife and members of the self-help group.”

 Next to her husband, Noriko pledged to offer help to people suffering from gambling addiction. “What we should do in return is to support people with the addiction and their families,” she said.

“Now is the time to change people’s growing interest in [gambling] addiction into power to promote measures against it.”