More than 100k Oklahomans dealing with gambling addiction - KSWO, Lawton, OK- Wichita Falls, TX: News, Weather, Sports. ABC, 24/7, Telemundo -

More than 100k Oklahomans dealing with gambling addiction

(Source KSLA) (Source KSLA)

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) – It's a problem that more than 100,000 Oklahomans deal with on a daily basis and this March, groups are trying to bring awareness to its dangers.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness month, aimed at bringing help to all those who struggle with a gambling addiction. A lot of people gamble, and a gambling counselor said that is just fine, but there are signs your fun hobby has turned into an addiction.

If you try to hide your casino trips, begin borrowing money to gamble or try and fail to stop going to the casino, you might have a problem that could be taking a huge toll on your life.

"We see it affecting work, relationships, marriages, it affects them certainly financially,” said Wiley Harwell, the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Problem and Compulsive Gambling. “But depression is the leading disorder because they are doing something that now if they really develop a problem they can't control. So, it begins to affect literally every area of their life."

Harwell said most people start as social gamblers, simply going a few times and monitoring their time and money spent at the casino. But he said that can change quickly, often times when someone wins big and wants to continue to win, or when they begin to like how gambling makes them feel.

"As long as they can gamble or play or sit at a slot machine, they don't have other symptoms,” Harwell said. “They don't have depression, they don't have anxiety, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, all of these things go away so they begin to use the gambling activity as the means of escaping.”

Harwell said for some, a trip to the casino has the same effect on our brains as some deadly substances.

"Now that we have very sophisticated machines, like MRI and so forth, we see the brain reacts to the gambling activity as well as the neurotransmission of serotonin and dopamine in exactly the same way that the body and the brain respond to drugs and alcohol,” Harwell said.

There are 138 casinos in Oklahoma, featuring more than 79,000 slot machines and almost 700 tables, so gambling is not easy to get away from if you have a problem. But Harwell said there are people you can talk to and places you can go if gambling is something you are dealing with.

"We do have treatment available that is paid for with funds from the state,” Harwell said. “We want people to know help is available, we want to help destigmatize the disorder, let them know there are many other people who reach out for help. And just spend time educating the public that this is a real disorder that people need help for."

Gambling isn't going away anytime soon but there are free ways to get help if you are struggling and have a problem. Just call the problem gambling hotline at 1(800) 522-4700. When you call that number, they are going to put you in contact with someone in your area that can help you with your problem. 

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