He Blew His
Money, Reputation, Family, and Future
Published Saturday, September 25, 1999, in The State.
The young gamble away not just money, but their
By CLAUDIA SMITH BRINSON Associate
He was a pre-med student at a college on the
coast. Now he is a video poker addict living at a recovery center. He was the apple of his
mother's eye, a handsome, tall, bright, lively son, good in sports, on the dean's list at
school. Now, his mother says, "This gambling has made my child a thief, a liar, a
His parents didn't understand at first. When he
confessed he owed some money from gambling, they thought he was betting on sports events.
When his grades fell and he became ill, they thought it was just a tough semester. When he
said he needed a hundred or so because he had lost a book or wanted to buy some shirts, they
believed him and gave him money without question.
Then, in November 1998, he called his mother and
tried the good news/bad news ploy. The good news: "I went to a GA meeting." The bad news: "I
have some debts."
His Mom asked, "What's GA?" And he answered,
She asked, "How much?" and he said, "$1,800." When
she exclaimed "$1,800!" he began to cry. He said: "Mom, I have a real problem. I need help. I
thought about killing myself, but I knew what that would do to you."
His parents did what any parents would do: They
rushed to their child's side. They found a drawer spilling over with bad check notices. They
answered the phone to hear strangers threatening to cut their boy's throat.
He had sold his computer. He had sold his mountain
bike. He had sold his stereo and both speakers. He had sold his television. He had sold his
With the help of a school counselor, his parents
placed him in a local drug and alcohol rehab center ($2,700 a week) because that was all they
could find. Because addiction to gambling has been so underground, not many places treat it
specifically, and no one claims to really know how.
His parents allowed him to stay enrolled in
school. They paid off everything he owed. Once a week his Mom would drive from their home in
York County to the coast to attend a group session with him.
In April, when the rehab center handed over rent
money and he gambled it away and lied, the rehab center handed over more rent money, and then
he confessed -- but not before he'd stolen his roommate's ATM card and withdrawn
His parents came down again, took him home, stayed
on the phone until they found one of the few places on the East coast that specializes in
gambling addiction. He did well in Florida ($6,000 for the first month). He did well until he
came home to South Carolina's video poker machines in July.
"He says it's like a high to hear the bells and
see the flashing lights," says his Mom. She can't send him anywhere and keep him safe. To the
gas station? Video poker machines. To the grocery store? A machine next door. To a 24- hour
market? Video poker machines. Many restaurants? Video poker machines. In York County, you can
walk just a few steps in most any direction and find a machine to bet a few
His father asked him, "Son, do you ever win?" He
replied, "I don't know, because if I win I put it right back in the
He told his parents he was going to the Y, and his
father found him at one of his hangouts, perched on a stool, engrossed in a hand of video
He took his father's tools and pawned them. He
swiped three checks from his mother's business checkbook and cashed one. He stole a friend's
ATM card and withdrew $550. He charged $1,600 on his mother's corporate
His parents now understood that they weren't
dealing with a bad patch in the road; they weren't dealing with a troubled child; they were
dealing with an addict. They looked at their 30-year-marriage, strained at every seam; at
their older son, who wept at a counseling session, saying he felt his brother had died; at
their finances, dealt blow after blow by what must be nearly $100,000 in rehab bills and
debts they've covered.
They told their son he had to leave home; he was
on his own. "My priorities have changed now," says his Mom. "He'll never go to veterinary
school. Now I just want him to live.
"With addiction, the more you love them, the more
you can hurt them. You can destroy them with love."
So the college student is in treatment again; the
Florida center now has a York County location. But he can't go home; he can't call home; his
parents won't bail him out; he has to pay for his own treatment.
"Your child is your child for life," says his Mom.
"But to let him go on stealing from me, pulling me down in the vortex with him, that is
absurd. If loving him would have made him well, he'd be the healthiest person in
She says: "It's a silent disease. That's why
people don't realize. I start thinking about his future, and I can't go there. This is a kid
that had it all. He says, 'I can't believe I can't beat a machine.'
"The thing that scares me is that addicts who get
well are older and have hit bottom. He thinks he's young and invincible, and right now he's
throwing away his entire life. This could go on years and years with no
This was a child who gave his lunch to a homeless
man because he recognized one of God's angels. Now this child is an addict and a thief. In
South Carolina, this could be anyone's child.
Names were omitted because of the addict's youth.
If you need help with a gambling addiction, call Gamblers Anonymous at 1-800-313-0170. If
you're willing to tell your story, please write Ms. Brinson at The State, P.O. Box 1333,
Columbia, S.C. 29202, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should consider subscribing to The State. They have done a wonderful job in informing us of the dangers of
this pan-societal menace!
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