March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month: Here’s How You Can Help


Although drug and alcohol addiction often gets a lot of media attention, you don’t necessarily have to introduce a foreign substance into the body to suffer from the cycle of addiction. In fact, our brains often create these addictive chemical reactions on their own. That’s certainly the case with gambling addiction — which, as anyone who’s ever loved or lived with a gambler will tell you, is as real as any substance abuse problem. And because March is designated as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, there’s never been a better time to take a hard look at yourself or at someone you care about to assess whether addiction might be having an adverse effect on your life in the Sunshine State.

Although there are 104 casinos located in the Las Vegas valley, there are a number of gambling facilities located throughout the United States. What’s more, these locations bring in a lot of money for the local economy. According to a report for the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling from 2012, the Sunshine State alone brought in over $1.5 billion in revenue from gambling facilities and activities from 2009 to 2010. In 2010, the state actually eliminated the vast majority of funds allocated for outreach, education, and prevention programming related to problem gambling. According to that report, the majority of Floridians who participated in the study had engaged in some form of gambling in 2012, with 88% of those who gamble reporting that they willingly travel up to 50 miles to partake in these activities. Around 15% of Florida’s population played the lottery within a given week — a figure five times more common than any other form of gambling that took place within the same time period. Roughly 21% had gambled at a casino or racino during 2012, while 3.4% of Floridians played non-machine-based poker on a weekly basis.

Gambling is also a serious problem in other states throughout the nation. And in some cases, gambling could derail lives. You don’t have to become a certified CPA (which first became an option when the CPA exam was administered in 1896) to understand that greater revenue typically accompanies increased spending.

The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped matters. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the last year or suffered other financial hardships. And while the 24% of U.S. homebuyers who still have student loan debt have benefitted from federal pauses on those loans, that could give some people a false sense of financial security in certain cases. Without a pressing need to pay down student loan debt, you could have a bit more income to spend as you wish — and coupled with boredom, stress, isolation, and depression, that could be a recipe for disaster. Even if you don’t have extra money to spend right now, of course, that doesn’t mean addictive tendencies will be abated. And if you were already struggling due to COVID-19, problem gambling could make things a whole lot worse.

So how can you help? For one thing, it’s important to recognize the signs. It’s typically more difficult to do so with a gambling addiction, as there are no real physical symptoms associated with this impulse control disorder. But adults who experience problem gambling tend to exhibit financial issues, as Americans who meet the criteria for problem gambling carry an average of $45,000 in personal debt (a figure that’s nearly 20% higher than the national average). People with gambling addictions are also more likely to experience depression and self-destructive behavior, as well as relationship issues, work absenteeism, and mood changes. Many also have co-occurring substance use disorders. And while younger men who are embarking on successful careers may have a higher risk for developing a gambling addiction, it really can affect people of any age, gender, sexuality, race, creed, or socioeconomic background.

While denial and shame are highly common among people who experience addictive disorders, many hope that the increased education that comes as a result of National Problem Gambling Awareness Month will encourage people who are affected to seek support. If someone you love is being impacted by suspected gambling addiction or you’ve been approached by concerned friends and family members, help is available. You can contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline to learn more about counseling, treatment, and support groups that are available to you. The National Council on Problem Gambling website is also a helpful resource.

Given the impact that gambling has on our economy, it’s a safe bet that these facilities and online platforms aren’t going anywhere soon. But by getting the help you or your loved ones need, you can break the cycle and find freedom from the damage addiction can cause.

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