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Mental Health & Wellness Articles

Odds Are Problem Gambling Will Continue to Grow

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Photo is of lots of cash.With March Madness about to tip off, 68 million Americans are expected to gamble on the famed college basketball tournament. Wagering is entertainment for most people, but it is addictive for some and can result in catastrophic consequences.

The legalization of sports betting, the expansion of online gambling, and the integration of gambling elements into video games have all contributed to the surge in gambling. That has resulted in more people struggling to manage the impulse to wager. During Problem Gambling Awareness Month, NewBridge Services’ experts on gambling addiction are providing information about how to recognize it and access help.

“You can gamble on almost anything now,” said Derk Replogle, NewBridge’s director of Addiction Services. The prevalence rate of people in New Jersey deemed as having a gambling disorder is 6%, three times the national average, according to a 2023 study by Rutgers Center for Gambling Studies.

Wagering Soars

The National Council on Problem Gambling reported that the risk of gambling addiction grew by 30% following the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing betting on sporting events. It’s estimated that 9 million American adults have a gambling problem, according to the NCPG, which oversees the 1-800-GAMBLER helpline.

Gambling revenue in New Jersey set records in January: sports betting was up 136% and internet gambling was nearly 20% higher than January 2023, according to the state Division on Gaming Enforcement. Betting on March Madness is expected to increase again this year; last year’s $15.5 billion — a four-fold increase over 2022, according go the International Gambling Counselor Certification Board.

“There’s been a surge in gambling, but there’s also more help available,” said Madeeha Janjua-Afzal, a gambling addiction counselor at NewBridge.

Even children are exposed to the gambling culture: numerous video games feature loot boxes that allow players to buy, with real money or earned points, the chance to gain desirable skins and weaponry for their avatars. “We’re introducing the aspect of chance to younger and younger people,” Replogle said. 

Treatment for Dual Disorders

NewBridge runs a compulsive gambling treatment program in Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties as part of a statewide initiative addressing dual disorders. The majority of NewBridge clients with a gambling problem also cope with substance use disorder or mental illness, Replogle said.

NewBridge’s program is client-centered, and goal development is a central component. Participants receive individual therapy and education, group therapy, a psychiatric evaluation, medication management and counseling for co-occurring disorders. Through case management, participants receive care coordination for community supports. For more information, email or call (973) 316-9333.

Warning Signs

According to Janjua-Afzal, warning signs of problem gambling include:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling
  • Needing to gamble more and more money in order to achieve the same thrill previously experienced
  • Trying to unsuccessfully control, cut back or stop gambling
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not gambling, such as feeling restless or irritable

Like drugs or alcohol, gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system, leading to addiction. The consequences can be severe. Beyond the risk of financial ruin, problem gambling can damage or destroy relationships, lead to legal problems, and for some, result in suicidal thoughts.

People often don’t access treatment “until they’ve hit some kind of bottom,” Replogle said. All NewBridge clinicians screen clients for a gambling problem and refer them for the specialized treatment if needed. NewBridge offers specialized counseling and an addiction support group, Replogle said.

Problem Gambling Resources

The National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER has trained counselors available to provide free, confidential support. Gamblers Anonymous meetings are available at all hours, Janjua-Afzal said. The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey and the New Jersey Lottery (NJL) this month launched the “Betting on Change: Confronting the Surge in Problem Gambling” campaign to promote prevention of and recovery from problem gambling. Learn more here. The CCGNJ coordinates the state’s self-exclusion program, allowing people concerned about their gambling habits to opt out of access to casinos and online gaming. 

Gamblers Anonymous offers a self-screening here to help people understand their gambling habits.


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