March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. If you are like many people, you may have gambled at least once in your life. Many of us buy a lottery ticket every now and then or join the office pool when the big game comes around. Millions of people gamble every day with no problems.

Unfortunately, there are also millions of people that become addicted to gambling. Gambling becomes a problem when it interferes and causes a disruption in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social, vocational, health, spiritual or emotional. Problem gambling has been described as the hidden addiction.

Alcohol and drug abuse come with noticeable physical signs that there is a problem. Problem gambling has no physical signs and there is no physical test that indicates the negative effects of gambling. Problem gambling does not discriminate. Anyone can develop a gambling problem. Groups at high risk include seniors, adolescents, college students, athletes and veterans. Gambling can be done responsibly by setting limits (time, money) and sticking to them. However, if you or a loved one has developed a preoccupation with gambling it may be a good idea to seek help. Other signs of problem gambling may include loss of interest in other activities, lying and the need to increase the bet to maintain the thrill.

The Steuben Council on Addictions is a local resource that can educate and refer people to the appropriate services. We can be reached at (607) 776-6441. There is also the NYS helpline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369).

Michele Sexsmith is the prevention educator, Steuben Council on Addictions.