A proclamation issued by Governor Chris Christie declares March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month in New Jersey. Addiction experts and lottery officials have pledged to educate the public about the warning signs of problem gambling and the help that is available.

All NJ Lottery tickets include the 1-800-GAMBLER number for problem gamblers and their loved ones. (Flickr User Robert S. Donovan)

While there is a special focus on the issue this month, New Jersey Lottery Executive Director Carole Hedinger said the organization tries to promote responsible gaming year-round.

"Gambling, especially lottery play, should be something that's done for entertainment and not to cause any problems," Hedinger said.

She said the 1-800-GAMBLER helpline may be the best starting point for gamblers and their loved ones.

The helpline, operated by the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, takes 17,000 calls a year.

"Right now, the estimate is that there are 350,000 people in the state of New Jersey with a gambling addiction or at-risk for problem gambling," explained the Council's Executive Director, Donald Weinbaum. "The most important thing is to talk to somebody that understands, and that kind of help is available through our 1-800-GAMBLER helpline."

Weinbaum described gambling as a "behavioral addiction." He said people with a gambling problem can be playing with money they don't have, and they could build up massive amounts of debt. However, addiction doesn't always have to reach that level of intensity.

For the first time, in a couple of months, the American Psychiatric Association will change gambling from an impulse control diagnosis to an addiction.

"We know that people can recover, just like they can recover from a drug and alcohol addiction with the right treatment and support," said Lynn Kovich, Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services within the state Department of Human Services.

Nationally, about two to three percent of the population can be classified as pathological or problem gamblers.