With new law in effect, gambling addiction a concern

MORGANTOWN — Football fans are gearing up for the season and, this year, gamblers can lay down a few dollars on their favorites as a new law makes sport betting legal in West Virginia.

That’s not good news for everyone, though.

“I think gambling addiction is a bigger issue than people realize in this state,” Sheila Moran said.

Moran, director of communications and marketing for The Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia, said the intensity of a gambling problem is comparable to an alcohol addiction.

Moran said the network wants people to be responsible gamblers.

“This is not something you can do to make a living. This is not something you can do without any risk, similar to drinking alcohol,” she said.

According to Moran, gambling addicts have the highest rate of suicide of any addiction.

Robert Edmundson, clinical social worker and associate professor at WVU, also said those addicted to gambling can have the same behaviors as other addictions.

“Problem gambling is one that’s called a process addiction, which is not involved with alcohol or drug addiction, but nonetheless has many of the same qualities as those addictive behaviors,” Edmundson said.

The Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia was established in 2000, and has taken more than 2,000 calls in Monongalia County, alone.

The goal of the helpline is to provide help at no cost. Each call agent assesses where the caller is with his or her gambling problem and schedules a free appointment with an addiction counselor. After the first free session with a counselor, the person can will pay for counseling sessions. For those struggling financially, the organization will cover costs for further sessions.

There are also support groups for gambling addiction and network clients are encouraged to attend them. In addition to support groups, the help network provides pamphlets with self-help material as well as retreats to help people recover from their gambling addiction.

According to Edmundson, the most helpful type of therapy is through support groups.

“The treatment of choice for addiction is group therapy,” Edmundson said. “Only in groups can you really be with other people who you can relate with and identify with.”

There are also types of gamblers, the most common being action and escape gamblers, according to Moran. Action gamblers are the type who bet on sports because they feel they’re good at it. Escape gamblers are those who usually play slot machines due to depression and gamble as a mechanism to distract them, Moran said.

Edmundson said when assessing a patient with addiction, he looks at behavior and personality to better understand and further assist the patient.

“Particularly when it comes to gambling, people will often gamble money they don’t have,” Edmundson said. “The cornerstone and behavior that crosses all addiction is loss of control. You’re no longer in charge, it is.”

Moran said lying is the most common symptom with someone who develops a gambling problem. She said usually being dishonest to their loved ones about their addiction then creates relationship issues — not only affecting the person with a gambling problem but also the ones closest to them.

“It’s sort of like alcohol tolerance. With gambling, people might start going for fun and then they play a couple of dollars and set a limit and stick to it,” Moran said. “Then they end up losing money they didn’t mean to lose and they put back more money to chase that.”

Moran said “before you know it,” people with gambling problems end up spending an entire paycheck on a simple machine, attempting to win back the money they lost.

Moran said the network’s current goal is marketing to the youth in order to prevent gambling being an issue for young males, particularly college students.

  • For more information or help, go to https://www.1800gambler.net/ or call 1-800-GAMBLER (426-2537).
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