A Veteran’s Struggle with Gambling Addiction

Learn more about outrageous gambling on military bases in the interview with Glen Osowski. Below you find a summary of Brian and Jeff’s interview with Glen in their podcast All-In The Addicted Gambler. You find the full episode if you click here.

Veteran Gambling addiction

Super Summary

The podcast delves into Glen Osowski’s journey through gambling addiction, its impact on military life, and recovery. Glen shares his experiences in the Marine Corps, the Department of Defense’s involvement in overseas gambling, and the importance of prevention and recovery efforts. He highlights the benefits of group treatment, the role of spirituality in recovery, and the necessity of addressing gambling-related issues among active-duty military members. Glen emphasizes mindfulness and self-awareness, which are crucial to overcoming gambling addiction.

Top 5 takeaways

  • The military environment can foster gambling opportunities and addiction.
  • Inpatient treatment at the Cleveland VA plays a crucial role in recovery for many individuals.
  • Spirituality and personal growth are essential components of the recovery process.
  • Addressing gambling-related issues among active-duty military members is essential.
  • Mindfulness and self-awareness are crucial in overcoming gambling addiction.

All in the Addicted Gamblers podcast, hosted by Brian and Jeff is joined by Glen Osowski. Glen, a recovered gambling addict, works for the Veterans Affairs (VA) and has participated in conferences and panels discussing military gambling and the recovery process. He passionately advocates for those on the front of prevention and recovery.

Glen’s Background and Introduction to Gambling

Glen shares his background, including growing up in Minnesota and joining the Marine Corps in 1986. He opens up about his struggles with gambling addiction and its impact on his life. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Glen found himself cashing bad cheques and accumulating debt to fuel his addiction. Despite his military success, his addiction eventually led to theft, fraud, and a court-martial in 1997.

Sentenced to five years in prison, Glen was released on parole after two years following a successful appeal. However, he resumed gambling shortly after his release.

Life After Prison and the Return to Gambling

Brian asks Glen about Glen’s transition from prison to civilian life and the decision to gamble again. Glen explains that gambling was an escape, as he disliked living in someone else’s home and job. Glen was also grappling with guilt and shame. At that point, he wasn’t prepared to confront the emotional and psychological challenges of adjusting to a new life after his military career.

Glen’s addiction significantly affected his relationship with his family, who severed ties with him due to years of deception and disappointment. The guilt and shame he felt during this time led to suicidal thoughts, which he eventually overcame through perseverance and determination in his recovery.

Ultimately, Glen sought treatment and embarked on his recovery journey.

Glen’s Career at Veterans Affairs and Recovery Process

Glen started working for the Veterans Affairs in 2006, having managed to quit gambling in 2004. He explains that he had to completely change his lifestyle and forge a new path to success in his recovery.

He delves into how gambling became an issue during his military service. It began as recreational gambling, introduced to him by his family during childhood. Gambling was perceived as a regular activity. Glen was particularly drawn to the competitive aspects of gambling. The military environment also facilitated gambling opportunities, with slot machines available on overseas bases and gambling taking place on ships during deployment.

Gambling served as an escape, a way for Glen to cope with the challenges and pressures of military life. He notes the power of gambling addiction, pointing out the irony that veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) may struggle to go out in public yet can tolerate the stimuli of a casino.

Department of Defense and Slot Machines

The podcast also covers the fact that the Department of Defense operates slot machines on overseas bases. Brian finds this shocking. Glen explains that it’s intended to combat boredom and keep service members out of trouble, but these machines have limited oversight. The money generated goes to the morale, welfare, and recreation department. However, the real issue lies in the military’s inability to develop healthy recreational activities for service members.

This engaging conversation explores the intersection of gambling addiction and military life and highlights the importance of supporting prevention and recovery efforts.

Gambling Treatment at the Cleveland VA

Glen discusses his experience with gambling treatment at the Cleveland VA facility, which he first entered in 2001. He discovered the program when he was homeless and seeking medical assistance at the VA. Initially, Glen was treated by Dr. Lori Rugal and later by Heather Chapman. He emphasizes the importance of upgrading his discharge, making him eligible for VA benefits.

The Department of Defense’s program, run by Dr. Chapman, serves veterans worldwide and is the only place for active-duty military members to receive inpatient treatment. However, one of the problems for active-duty military members is the legal consequences of problem gambling and the stigma surrounding asking for help.

Inpatient gambling treatment in the United States began in 1971 with Dr. Robert Custer. The Cleveland VA’s program typically involves five weeks of intensive inpatient treatment in a group setting, followed by ongoing outpatient support once the individual returns home.

Glen shares that he stayed in Cleveland after treatment to maintain distance from his previous gambling environment. The support from the VA and living in the domiciliary played a crucial role in his recovery. He believes that the group model is effective because it helps people understand that they’re not alone in their struggle with gambling addiction.

Forgiveness in Recovery

The conversation shifts to forgiveness and dealing with shame in recovery. Jeff shares how distinguishing between guilt and shame helped him. Glen adds that understanding how the brain works and how it is hijacked by addiction is vital for recovery. Brian and Glen both agree that gambling addiction is not about the money but about the emotional disease and being in action.

Jeff raises the topic of active-duty military members being away from their financial responsibilities, making it easier to forget their obligations. Glen highlights how the anger from loved ones is understandable and that problem gamblers must understand their relationship with money.

Glen and Jeff also discuss the cognitive distortions that problem gamblers have and how treatment involves working on recognizing and correcting these distortions. They reiterate that gambling addiction is not about winning or losing money; it’s about the action and the thrill it provides.

Consequences of Gambling Addiction

Glen talks about the gambler’s fallacy and the science behind gambling addiction. He mentions that the pleasure part of the brain, which is highly active while gambling, can cut off the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for decision-making. Interestingly, the pleasure center in the brain of an active gambler can be more lit up than someone on cocaine, highlighting the physical severity of the addiction.

Glen and Brian share their experiences with gambling, emphasizing that the thrill it gave them was incomparable to anything else in their lives. They also touch on the high suicide rates associated with gambling addiction, indicating that many people struggle to overcome it despite participating in recovery programs and meetings.

The Recovery Strategy That Worked for Glen

Recovery can be challenging, as those in recovery may feel like they can never regain what they’ve lost. Glen stresses the importance of a spiritual component in the recovery process and finding peace of mind and contentment in the simpler aspects of life. He shares his story of losing contact with his family and how he needed to forgive himself even when others could not.

Jeff questions the balance between accepting powerlessness over gambling and taking responsibility for past actions. Despite the scientific evidence that gambling addiction is a mental disorder, people in recovery are still expected to seek forgiveness and make amends. It highlights the complexity of the issue and the challenges individuals face in reconciling the disorder’s impact on their lives with their accountability.

Glen emphasizes that everyone’s recovery journey is unique; defining what recovery means to each person is essential. He mentions that his biggest challenge is honesty and addressing the lost time due to gambling addiction. Glen also underlines the importance of not playing the victim and recognizing that the person in recovery is ultimately responsible for their actions.

He shares his experiences with various treatment approaches and how shame and judgment can sometimes make it difficult for people to seek help or stay committed to their recovery. For Glen, spirituality is critical in keeping him on track. It keeps him on his toes even when no one else is watching.

Glen admits that he’s still a work in progress and can be sensitive to others’ opinions or evaluations. He acknowledges that he hurt the people he loved the most during his addiction but insists that he always loved them unconditionally.

Glen and Jeff discuss the issue of incarceration for gambling-related financial crimes and question its effectiveness as a solution. They point out the prevalence of gambling within prisons and argue that alternative approaches, like monitoring and debt repayment, might be more effective for rehabilitation.

Feelings in Gambling Recovery

The conversation shifts to the importance of time in recovery and how it can sometimes create feelings of shame or inadequacy. Brian shares his experience of feeling uncomfortable returning to a support group after a relapse, emphasizing the importance of the people and camaraderie in these groups.

Brian and Glen discuss how the podcast helped Brian avoid going to Gamblers Anonymous, emphasizing that everyone’s recovery journey is unique. Glen also touches upon the concept of harm reduction, explaining that it allows individuals to limit their gambling or drinking while still leading a productive life. He acknowledges that people are at different life stages, and respecting their journeys is essential.

Glen believes mindfulness is essential in recovery and how anger often can stem from being angry at oneself. He stresses that feelings aren’t good or bad, but our behavior in response to those feelings determines whether it’s positive or negative. Slowing down thoughts and reactions in recovery can be beneficial, allowing individuals to think about the consequences of their actions.

Jeff raises the subject of dreams and how they sometimes trigger a desire to gamble. Glen suggests that dreams can serve as a means for the brain to process life experiences, and writing them down can help dissipate nightmares. It’s crucial to embrace and analyze these dreams to understand if a deeper issue needs to be addressed.

The importance of self-awareness, mindfulness, and personal growth is evident throughout the conversation. Recognizing that everyone’s path to recovery is different and respecting each individual’s journey can lead to a more supportive and understanding environment for everyone involved.

Suicide Among Gambling Addicts

As a provider on the other side of the desk, Glen underscores the importance of addressing the potential for suicide in individuals struggling with gambling addiction. He highlights the unique challenges of working with gamblers, such as their intact cognitive abilities and the high risk of suicidality.

Glen also discusses the elevated risk of suicide among veterans. He pinpoints their comfort with, and access to, weapons as a possible contributing factor. Through sharing his personal story, Glen aims to raise awareness about the challenges those with gambling addiction face and the importance of taking suicide risk seriously.

Glen later became a counselor for combat veterans. Brian asks Glen if he finds it hard to separate his personal and professional opinions while counseling them. Glen shares that his training has been crucial in helping him handle this. He accentuates the importance of listening, being non-judgmental, and creating a therapeutic relationship in the first session. Glen believes that the best way to do this is by allowing the patient to do most of the talking while he listens.

As the conversation wraps up, Glen expresses his willingness to help with future discussions, and the hosts thank him for sharing his experiences.


The conversation with Glen Osowski sheds light on the complex relationship between gambling addiction and military life. By sharing his journey, Glen highlights the challenges faced by those struggling with addiction and underlines the importance of prevention, recovery efforts, and understanding each individual’s journey. It’s fundamental to address gambling addiction among active-duty military members and foster an environment of mindfulness, self-awareness, and personal growth to support those on their road to recovery.

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