It's known as the hidden addiction for a reason.

Given the proliferation of betting outlets over the past few years in the Garden State, advocates say it's more important than ever before for residents to be aware of the signs of a problem gambler — many are not obvious.

Making matters worse, individuals with an addiction to wagering are less likely to seek help than individuals with other types of addictions, such as drugs or alcohol, research shows.

"They are trapped and pushed up against a wall, and almost feel that they are in too deep, to the point where becoming honest doesn't seem like a solution," said Michael Garcia, treatment coordinator for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

During a webinar on March 31 — the final presentation in a series as part of Problem Gambling Awareness Month — Garcia said the signs of a gambling issue aren't always as straightforward as someone asking family and friends for cash, or being preoccupied with casino trips and betting apps.

Several potential red flags may fly under the radar of loved ones. Many of them are similar to behaviors that may be displayed by someone battling depression. These include:

  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Losing interest in hobbies
  • Neglecting basic responsibilities (paying bills, cleaning car/house)
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Irrational mood swings

"Mood swings by themselves could have a variety of different sources. But when paired with context, when paired with different situations and behaviors, we can then start to put the pieces together," Garcia said.

There's "no urine analysis" for detecting a problem gambler, he said — so it may be up to one's family and friends to do the work, if the subject doesn't reach out for help themselves.

Garcia's presentation noted that individuals with substance use disorder can be three times more likely than problem gamblers to reach out for assistance. Problem gamblers also have proven to be a higher suicide risk than people with other addictions.

According to CCGNJ, thousands of New Jersey residents struggle every day with problem gambling.

"Problem gamblers tend to go to great lengths to hide their gambling activities from friends and family," CCGNJ says on its website. "They may start to act uncharacteristically."

Gambling problem? The Council is reachable at 800-GAMBLER, for no-cost intervention and referral services. New Jersey residents can use this link to find virtual and in-person Gam-Anon (aka Gamblers Anoynmous) meetings.

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