• By Micah Dorfner

The Truth About March Madness — A Gambling Addiction Specialist’s Point-Of-View

March 19, 2015

close up of basketball going through hoop - sports

LA CROSSE, Wis. — In the swing of March Madness, brackets are being filled, bets are being placed and people are blowing up their personal social media pages with the results of their bracket-placement decisions — good or bad. But in the midst of all the pleasure and entertainment, NCAA brackets can be dangerous for some. More than 300,000 Wisconsinites have some sort of gambling addiction, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and these notorious brackets may be luring them back to their obsession. “This is a tempting time of year and over doing it can put a lot of people in trouble,” explains Jeff Court, Mayo Clinic Health System behavioral health gambling specialist.

Compulsive gambling, also known as gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to continue gambling regardless of the toll it takes on your life. Gambling means that you're willing to risk something you value in hopes of getting something of even greater value. It also stimulates the brain's reward system much like drugs and alcohol can, leading to an addiction. Compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives.

“Not all gambling is bad,” says Court. “Doing one pool doesn’t mean you’re addicted to gambling. However, if you do multiple pools and get yourself in financial harm and obsess about the results, that’s when you may be in trouble. Those are two key factors in knowing you may have crossed the line.”

On rare occasions, gambling becomes a problem with the very first wager. But more often, a gambling problem progresses over time. In fact, many people spend years enjoying social gambling without any problems. Yet more frequent gambling or life stresses can turn casual gambling into something much more serious.

Compulsive gambling affects both men and women and is equally likely in any cultural, social and economic position. Gambling disorder, like other addictions, is becoming more understood due to scientific studies about the brain, as well as the influence of a person’s enviroment and family history. Although overcoming compulsive gambling can be challenging, many compulsive gamblers have found help through professional treatment.

“Understand that the odds in any gambling situation are not in your favor,” says Court. “So, if you’re going to gamble, don't expect to win.”