Claus Elgaard - Recovering Problem Gambler
For several years, Claus Elgaard was a gambling addict. Though his work never suffered, he struggled even as he was cultivating a career as one of the best-known faces on Danish television. Today on the blog Søren Jakobsen talks with the recovering compulsive gambler on how his addiction took over his life and how he came to realise he had a serious problem.
Gambling addiction is a mental affliction which, sadly, affects all too many across Europe. It poisons one’s daily life, which becomes harnesed to the search for the next ”fix”, just as though one were hooked on heroin. Of course, it is also especially detrimental to the gambling addict’s personal finances. This condition has ramifications which spread easily outward, touching one’s friends and one’s closest acquaintences – who often have a hard time perceiving what is really going on.
For Claus Elgaard, former Danish TV host and current communications consultant, it was his self-respect which silently disappeared. The familiar face of sport on Denmark's TV2 was dangling so far over the edge of mental stability that he considered suicide and ultimately went on an indefinite hiatus from his career as a TV host.
He is from time to time back on screen – as when he spent a hectic summer season filling in on DR Update – but his experiences, first as a gambling addict and then as someone who has ”gotten clean”, have opened new doors for him and his career. At the same time, he has become a public speaker and penned a book, A Life At Stake, about his ”career” as a compulsive gambler and about how he overcame that destructive addiction.
Bettingexpert has been granted the opportunity to ask Claus Elgaard about that difficult period and to pose a few questions about how the gambling escalated, how the realization that he was a compulsive gambler finally struck him, and how he eventually got help – at first relying primarily on his own internal resources, and later on the counseling he received at the Center for Compulsive Gambling.
Stimulation as an escape
Why did you initially take up gambling?
”Just as with other forms of addiction, it often starts with some personal crisis – something that throws one off balance and sends one searching for something that will be able to keep one diverted. This is how it was for me: after my girlfriend died unexpectedly and I began, at the same time, to feel the need for a bit of excitement. It wasn’t the winnings I was actually after; it was just that gaming was an interesting way to pass the time,” says Elgaard.
He preferred casinos and light betting, when not playing at automated gambling machines – but the effect was the same in the long run. It quickly transformed from a passtime into a hobby that overshadowed nearly everything else in the TV2 host’s daily life.
”The major difference between a compulsive gambler and someone who can gamble just for fun is that losing, for a compulsive gambler, can completely ruin your day. For those who play just for fun, they go to the casino, set out a bit of money to play with and it’s a pleasant evening in the company of friends – regardless of whether they win or lose. (Even though it’s of course extra fun if one does happen to win). For a compulsive gambler, winning is the only thing that matters, and you often try to make up for your losses by continuing to play – no matter how much money you’ve already lost”.
When did you first begin to realize that the urge to play had started to take over your life?
”You quickly start to feel as though you’re about to disappear from the face of the earth. You become distanced from reality. I stopped participating in social activities, even while I managed to have a brilliant career. I have never let my work go by the wayside, and at first the gambling served as a great form of release,” the former TV host tells us. But later it became an all-overshadowing compulsion which drove him to visit Denmark’s various casinos in turns, so that no one would see him at the same place all the time. His social life slid even further into the background, and he spent sleepless nights driving from his home in Odense to Copenhagen, where he would walk restlessly around the lakes, exhausted, but unable to sleep.
One can easily play without having a good time
For Claus Elgaard, there was one crucial thing that always struck him whenever he encountered another person in the same situation as himself. Or, rather, didn’t strike him: there was a lack of enjoyment of the game itself, which wasn’t to be seen among the repeat offenders he recognized from other casinos.
”It’s important to perceive that the joy of the game is missing. People have empty expressions, and much more violent reactions to any setbacks than one sees in those who are just out to have a good time. There’s an unhealthy focus in their expressions, and it’s obvious that they’re no longer playing for fun. When you win, it’s no big deal; but when you lose, it’s horrific,” says the host – who was at least able to escape one of compulsive gambling’s most common side effects.
”With the job I had as a studio host, it was a bit easier to patch up sudden holes in my personal finances by, for example, going out and taking a couple of extra assignments. For a compulsive gambler with a normal 8-to-4 job, however, it’s of course much harder; after all, his income simply is what it is, and he can thus be tempted to steal from the cash register at work or from someone out in the community, as one unfortunately hears about from time to time.” says Claus, who has a couple of fundamental bits of advice for those who may be too ashamed to face their friends, their family – or even themselves.
Acknowledging the problem sends an important signal
”So, my most important point is that there is, in my experience, not a SINGLE compulsive gambler who doesn’t realize that he’s gotten himself into a mess. It’s like how alcoholics who reach the point of having 6-7 beers and a couple of rounds of schnapps for breakfast don’t actually believe that what they’re doing is ok. Deep down, the compulsive gambler knows this as well. The problem is when one doesn’t acknowledge these things as the problems they are, and they are allowed to continue unchecked,” says Elgaard.
For Claus, it was literally as he stood at the edge of the harbor’s dark, watery surface that he realized he needed to seek help. And his acknowledgement of the fact that he had a problem elicited an overwhelmingly positive responses from those around him.
”I’ve received hundreds of letters expressing support for me and asking for advice. Admitting that you have a problem sends a signal to those around you that you’re aware of the problem, and that you’ve decided to get it under control. This is what I have seen.”
But even though Claus was able to take responsibility for himself, he realizes that this is not possible for many people. One may still be in the midst of a crisis, and have a difficult time admitting – both to himself, and to others – that there is a serious problem which needs to be resolved.
What should one say?
”It’s important that family and friends don’t turn a blind eye to the problem, or act as though there’s nothing wrong. If one has a suspicion, one should confront the person in question in a kind and careful way. Many people perhaps can’t relate to the idea that it is quite simply an illness, and have a hard time accepting this, but you have to bite the bullet, because it’s a self-perpetuating condition which only brings people to greater and greater ruin,” the ex TV man says.
Even though no one sounded the alarm for him, he doesn’t blame anyone. ”It’s not good enough just to blame everyone else one can for the fact that one ended up in this situation. There are of course traumatic life events which bring one to addiction, but I’ve never thought to grumble and moan about how ’no one at work said anything; my friends did nothing,’ and so on. No one forces you to throw down 1000 kr. on black but yourself,” Elgaard says. For him, the addiction came to an end with his acknowledgment that he had a problem. Ever since the first time he walked up the steps to the Center for Compulsive Gambling, he hasn’t relapsed.
”Well, it’s no secret that I like to play a few rounds at Den Lange every now and then, and that doesn’t tip the boat for me. It’s like with other forms of abuse, the way a former alcoholic may have a couple of beers or a glass of wine at a confirmation without falling straight back into the hole. But there’s no chance that I will go back to being a compulsive gambler,” says Elgaard, who has a successful new carreer doing freelance communications assignments, among other things.
If you think you may have a gambling problem or know someone who does, visit GambleAware.co.uk
This article was originally published at bettingexpert blog DK