Gambling a 'silent' addiction for MU students

Wellness Resource Center sponsors Problem Gambling Awareness Week.

Informational tables, an online quiz and literature were all a part of National Problem Gambling Awareness Week on campus, a campaign to prevent problem gambling among college students.

The Wellness Resource Center sponsored the week, and the center worked with students to help prevent gambling, a silent addiction for college students compared to other types, such as drugs and alcohol.

Partners in Prevention senior coordinator Joan Masters estimates 2-7 percent of students can be classified as problem or pathological gamblers across the U.S.

Partners in Prevention is a coalition of 13 public universities which addresses student health issues such as drugs, alcohol and problem gambling.

Masters said according to a Missouri College Student Health Behavior survey, more than 50 percent of college students have reported gambling in the last year, 2 percent gamble once a week and one percent gamble over three times a week.

Masters said one of the significant challenges of preventing problem gambling is the difficulty in detecting those students having trouble.

"Certainly gambling can be an addiction like alcohol, but you can't see it, you know," she said. "You can't smell it on someone's breath."

Gambling Education coordinator Kristy Wanner said while alcohol and drug addiction is overt, problem gamblers often don't publicly exhibit noticeable erratic behavior.

Wanner said though a student with a gambling addiction will be going through plenty of their own problems, their addiction can affect 10-17 people around them, according to research.

"Think about all the people you owe money to who you can't pay," she said. "This affects those relationships as well."

Some warning signs associated with gambling addiction include frequently being absent to obligations, a drop in grades, visible changes in behavior, lying, stealing, unexplained debt or the need for an emergency loan, Wanner said.

"We know that a lot of our students who may be gambling too much in terms of time, energy and money develop financial issues," Wanner said.

While the Wellness Resource Center does not offer counseling in-house, they can provide affected students with information on how to get help for themselves and those who may be affected by their addiction.

Aside from the center's Web site that directly addresses problem gambling, Wanner said there are many resources, such as the Counseling Center and national hotlines that can assist students coping with a gambling addiction.

"One thing that's kind of unique to Missouri is that we do free counseling not only for the students but for family and friends as well," Wanner said.

Wanner said one of the main obstacles of prevention is getting the word out about gambling addiction and resources available to affected students.

"It's just trying to educate the campus community that this is an addiction," she said. "The earlier we can intervene and get people help, the more we can help them deal with potential consequences."

Peer educator Michelle Pais said the week's activities are important.

"To me, I really think it's important to disseminate information about gambling and let people know that even if they don't gamble themselves that this is an issue for college students and to help friends or family deal with problem gambling," Pais said.

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