March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month - Have the conversation

by Anne Jessen, LMHC, IADC   Addiction Counselor

For most people, gambling is something done for fun and recreation. One might buy a Powerball ticket, play some Bingo, bet on a sporting event, or play video lottery. The facts are that the majority of Iowans gamble with little or no adverse consequences; they are commonly considered “social gamblers.”
But for some, gambling becomes a problem–and for others, uncontrollable. Problem gambling destroys families, friendships, finances and hopes, and for some, even life itself.
Substance Abuse Services Center (SASC) is highlighting the issue of gambling disorders with the second-annual Problem Gambling Awareness Month throughout March. An estimated 1.8 million Iowans have gambled in the past year. Out of that 1.8 million, over 280,000 (16%) are classified as at risk for a gambling problem. Recently, the American Psychiatric Association released its latest diagnostic manual (DSM-5), putting “gambling disorder” in its own category of a behavioral addiction, very similar to alcohol and drug addiction.
Clues about a gambling problem are often hidden, sometimes even hidden behind other addictions and mental health issues. Oftentimes, clues can be a little more obvious, especially this time of year, during March Madness. It is estimated that wagers made in Nevada on the NCAA basketball tournament will likely reach a record $119 million. It is important to note, that figure is only counting the legal wagers in that state (it’s currently not legal to bet on sports outside Nevada and New Jersey). Those who play tournament brackets typically do it for fun – but some take brackets too far, spending more than they can afford.
At SASC, local efforts are currently taking place to spread awareness to our communities on problem gambling and the support that is available to those affected by problem gambling. We want people to know that help is available for problem gamblers and their loved ones. Too often this addiction goes hidden and unrecognized. Please know that gambling disorders are preventable and treatable.
Anyone concerned about their own gambling behavior, or that of a loved one, can get help by calling 888-771-6771 or visit our website at
For more information, call Veterans Memorial Hospital Community and Home Care in Waukon at 563-568-5660.