Don’t Hit the Deck: National Problem Gambling Awareness Month

March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month
March 4, 2020

In 2018, many New Jersey residents celebrated the passing of a bill that allows sports wagering. Those who were not celebrating hit the deck because they believed that this expansion would increase gambling. Perhaps their fears were not unfounded. According to the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ), approximately $5.9 billion dollars were spent on legalized gambling in New Jersey alone in 2016. While one would think that the family unit is tangentially affected by gambling, children themselves also could develop a gambling problem. CCGNJ also states that in New Jersey from 2008 to 2018, between 12 and 22% of middle school students reported having gambled at least once in the prior 12 months. Furthermore, CCGNJ explains that people who experience gambling-related problems are likely to have higher rates of poor general health due to engaging with alcohol and/or substance abuse.

In recent years, there has been a growing conversation about problem gambling (or gambling addiction). According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, gambling addiction includes all gambling patterns of behavior that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits. Symptoms include increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet higher amounts of money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, "chasing" losses, and loss of control in spite of mounting negative consequences. In the most extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.

Here are some staggering statistics from the Problem Gambling Awareness Month website related to gambling addiction:
• Problem gambling racks up $7 billion in social costs per year.
• Six million Americans suffer with a gambling problem.
• The average debt of a problem gambler is $45,000.
• Eighty percent of the population has gambled in their lifetime.

"As problem gambling is commonly present along with substance use disorders or mental illnesses, and there is a high risk of suicide among those with gambling addiction, it is critical that healthcare providers screen for gambling problems and either provide integrated treatment or refer clients' to professionals who can address this serious issue," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO, New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA).

Anybody who gambles could develop an addiction. As the National Council on Problem Gambling also says, it is important to be aware of the risks and to gamble responsibly. While problem gambling is serious, it can be effectively treated with a combination of therapeutic modalities, recovery resources, and supportive psychological services, according to the American Addictions Center (click here to learn more). They also state that treatment can take place at an inpatient facility or at an outpatient rehabilitation program, depending on the needs of the individual. As CCGNJ states self-help groups including Gamblers Anonymous, Peer to Peer Support Groups, and more are also available.

A directory of NJAMHAA member providers of mental healthcare and substance use disorder treatment services is available at

"I am pleased that some NJAMHAA member providers have been offering services to address problem gambling, along with substance use and mental health care. The number of such organizations has recently increased as a result of partnerships with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, which is also a NJAMHAA member," Dr. Wentz added.

*For more information on this important issue, please visit the American Addiction Center's website and the websites of all other sources mentioned in this press release.

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