'March Madness' is also Problem Gambling Awareness Month: #HaveTheConversation about problem gambling to raise awareness for this often misunderstood, underdiagnosed and hidden disease
FARGO, ND (Monday, March 5, 2018) – Most people recognize this month as “March Madness,” during which excitement over the NCAA national championship games rises to a fever pitch. But it also is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month and is characterized by a different kind of madness: rampant sports betting, plus any other types of compulsive gambling.
During a month in which an estimated $10 billion in bets is placed, calls to the National Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-522-4700) spike an average of 30 percent during the month, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, which runs Gamblers Choice, the only accredited counseling program for problem gambling in North Dakota, has paired up with the NCPG to urge people – from spouses who suspect problem gambling to health-care providers who haven’t considered the potential of gambling problems in their patients – to “have the conversation” about problem gambling.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 3 to 4 percent of North Dakotans deal with some kind of gambling problem or addiction. This means as many as 30,000 residents could be affected. This does not take into account the addicted gamblers’ families, friends, co-workers and neighbors also affected by their compulsive behavior.
This type of addiction often remains undiagnosed and untreated as the addicts themselves are so ashamed over the financial consequences that they will hide the extent of their gambling from health-care providers, mental-health professionals and those closest to them. And, because addictive gambling is a “process addiction” – meaning a desired emotional state is achieved by something they do rather than a substance they ingest – addicts themselves may justify that the behavior is simply a “bad habit” that they can stop with appropriate willpower.
In fact, addictive gambling causes the same changes in the brain of an addict that drugs trigger in a drug abuser. Just like alcoholism, addictive gambling is a progressive disease, marked by mental preoccupation, withdrawal and craving when the addict attempts to curb gambling, and a need to gamble with larger sums of money in order to achieve the desired adrenaline rush. Left unchecked, it can have grim consequences, affecting everything from relationships and jobs to a family’s financial security. Gambling addicts are twice as likely to try suicide as other types of addicts. And gambling addiction often walks hand-in-hand with other addictions, such as alcohol abuse.
LSSND is doing the following activities to promote and raise awareness this month:
• Using its social-media channels to share a preview of a new e-curriculum being created by LSSND and KAT Communications in Bismarck, which will eventually be available online to help problem gamblers across the country.
• In conjunction with National Screening Day Tuesday, March 13, LSSND will use social media to direct the public toward a short yet accurate screening tool for potential gambling problems at https://www.gamblernd.com/education-training/national-gambling-disorder-screening-day/.
We also coordinated with the state Department of Human Services to send out a statewide email that urges social workers and mental-health professionals to screen for problem gambling while assessing clients.
• Continuing an intensive, month-long social-media campaign to educate the public on gambling addiction and urge addicts and/or their loved ones to get help. The content includes testimonials from recovering gambling addicts who found help through LSSND’s Gamblers Choice program, excerpts from interviews with licensed psychologist/addiction expert Dr. Stephen Timm, and referrals to www.gamblernd.com, an LSSND-run website created to promote awareness, education, research, prevention and treatment for compulsive gambling.
STORY IDEA: If you are interested in covering this important topic, we can connect you with two local women, Andi and Angie, who have a sponsee/sponsor relationship in Gamblers Anonymous. They are willing to share their stories and talk about how this connection between a newer person in recovery and a more experienced mentor is one of the most powerful aspects of recovery and is mutually beneficial to each.
To get help for a gambling problem for you or a loved one, call 1-800-522-4700. The call is free and confidential. For more information about problem gambling and how to have the conversation, go to www.gamblernd.com or www.ncpgambling.org/pgam.
Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is a statewide social ministry providing nonprofit housing, disaster recovery, counseling, therapy and other services to neighbors in need since 1919.
NCPG is the national advocate for problem gamblers and their families. NCPG is neutral on legalized gambling and works with all stakeholders to promote responsible gaming.