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Southeast Ohioans & Gambling Addiction

Published: December 2, 2020

It’s no secret that rural communities tend to face obstacles such as health disparities, poverty, unemployment, and less access to education and transportation. These are all issues that can lead to and amplify an array of problems, including addiction. A type of addiction that is underreported in the Southeast Ohio area – and all around Ohio – is gambling.

We talked to the Director of Clinical Operations for the Recovery Council, Mr. Bill Shepherd, a licensed independent social worker, and licensed chemical dependency counselor, to get his insights on the impact of gambling in Southeast Ohio. Shepherd, an Ashland, Kentucky resident who has nearly 30 years of experience working in the field of addiction (including substance abuse and mental health disorders), commutes 60 miles one way to reach his patients in rural Waverly, Ohio. Shepherd has received referrals from other providers as far away as Columbus, Ohio, to receive his help for gambling addiction.

For Shepherd, helping others is a calling he has worked to address for the past three decades.  But many are unaware of the intense issue of problem gambling, especially in rural communities. 

“I don’t believe that individuals’ awareness of gambling addiction is as prevalent as the substance abuse issue,” said Shepherd, who argued the devastating opiate epidemic could “mask” other addictions, such as gambling.

Problem gambling is something to keep a close eye on, though, and experts warn that it can be glamorized through TV commercials and highly enabled through sheer accessibility.

“The promotion of casinos or televised high-stakes card games are things we’re seeing more of,” Shepherd said, “If you go back 20, 30 years, it wasn’t as normalized in our society to gamble. People are becoming more saturated with that type of addiction.”

Prevention curriculum exists. Stacked-Deck: A Program to Prevent Problem Gambling, for example, is designed for students in grades 9-12 ready to be implemented into the school system.

Yet another obstacle to providing education, awareness, and treatment is the coronavirus. The pandemic’s impact on addiction in Southeastern Ohio is a definite reality. Shepherd said pathological gamblers’ issues could be on the rise because of isolation and depression.

“The dopamine release when people gamble is not something COVID is allowing,” he said. “There’s a lot of isolation and depression, so people are seeking this ‘high’ elsewhere.”

If you think you may have a gambling issue or suspect someone you know may have a gambling issue, you can take the SOGS (South Oaks Gambling Screen) or the Before You Bet quiz found on Ohio For Responsible Gambling’s website to answer questions like What is the largest amount of money you’ve ever gambled at one time? Have people in your life had a gambling problem?,  Have you claimed to be winning money when you weren’t?, Do you gamble more than you intend to?, Have you felt guilty about it?, Have you wanted to stop and weren’t able to?

The questions are designed to identify impulse control and could check off the first step in getting help: identifying and acknowledging the problem. From there, you’re left with the most important step, which, according to Shepherd, is asking for help.

Getting people in a position to seek help is “the fundamental obstacle,” he said. But it can be done.  

The Recovery Council in Waverly and Chillicothe offers many resources and avenues to help anyone in Southeastern Ohio that might need it, including substance abuse and mental health services to adult men and women; residential, outpatient, and supportive living services; and many other life-changing offerings.

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