Gambling addiction is a growing problem in North Dakota – and nation-wide.
As Prairie Public’s Dave Thompson reports, agencies that treat problem gamblers are hoping more of them seek help.
“We know that nationally, approximately 2 to 3 percent of people struggle with problem gambling,” said Pam Sagness, the Substance Abuse lead for the state Department of Human Services. “And so, if you put that in context for the state of North Dakota, it would mean that we’re looking at approximately 14 to 21,000 people that may be suffering from problem gambling.”
But how do you recognize that you may have a problem? Professionals say there are common symptoms.
“Lying, covering up the gambling activities and behaviors, that it creates stress and other difficulties at home," said Lisa Vig with Lutheran Social Services. "Other family members might have concerns. Anytime a gambler would have to rearrange finances because of gambling. That is not social gambling. That is crossing the line into problem gambling."
Vig is the program director of “Gambler’s Choice." It's an outpatient treatment program, and it offers counseling services for compulsive gamblers and their families.
"We serve the communities of Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minot," said Vig. "We provide outpatient treatment services for those gamblers who are recognizing that their gambling behaviors or gambling activities are creating issues in their life, and have a desire to want to address that issue.”
Vig says many compulsive gamblers are in denial – or are embarrassed to admit they have a problem.
“This is a very hidden issue," said Vig. "Most compulsive gamblers do well to hide it from their family members that they live with in their homes. So for them to kind of reach out and look for help is a big step. Lots of gamblers think there’s something wrong with them – they are recognizing that it’s an addiction, it’s a disease, and illness, much in the same way we talk about chemical dependency. So they’re reluctant to come out and seek help.”
Sagness says the problem will likely grow – as more money is spent on gambling.
“For example, we have had a 42 percent increase in lottery sales from 2004 until 2013," said Sagness. "That’s a pretty significant increase. So we want to make sure that if there are those who are struggling with problem gambling, that we’re available.”
Vig says there will be more efforts to make people aware of the gambling addiction treatment that’s available.
“I think as we make it more well-known, as we talk about it, as we help people not feel ashamed or embarrassed about it, people are willing to come forward,” said Vig.