Two measures making their way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly would expand gambling opportunities throughout the state, but with expanded opportunity comes expanded risk of addiction.
Problem gambling is a largely silent problem, but, according to Nicole Drozdiel, gambling prevention specialist with Beacon Light Behavioral Health, it's much more wide-spread than appearances indicate.
Drozdiel said that, while only a small percentage of the population has actually been identified as having a gambling addiction, the actual number of individuals struggling with problem gambling could be as high as 10 percent.
"Because there is kind of that shame of not being able to control your gambling, people don't seek help," she said. "People with a gambling addiction often think they can hide it, but people notice, especially as the drive increases. I see gambling addictions across all ages and all economic groups. I tend to see lower income people first, since they have less resources to devote to it. We have a large existing population already in treatment."
Drozdiel pointed out that Beacon Light, and by extension herself, don't have an anti-gambling message, but they do work to prevent people from becoming problem gamblers and connect those with an issue with help.
"A big portion of what we do is trying to head off a problem before it starts," Drozdiel said. "My program is not treatment based, but what I can do is people can come in and I can do a screening and provide them with some resources and help get them into treatment."
Drozdiel said the propensity for problem gambling is often paired with other issues.
"The folks that we identify with gambling addiction usually have a co-occurring alcohol addiction," Drozdiel said. "It also often coincides with mental health issues. If you think about how do we deal with situations at work or situations at home, we see it increasingly used as an avoidance mechanism. There's a propensity to use it to cope. So you're perpetuating a cycle of addiction."
While Drozdiel said she doesn't offer treatment herself, she can point people in the right direction with no cost or risk of identification.
"Everything I do is free and I don't track names, so everything is anonymous and confidential," she noted.
Those struggling with problem gambling can call the PA Gambling Helpline at 1-877-565-2112 or Beacon Light at 1-814-584-1140.
While the nearest self-help group is located in Jamestown, N.Y., since it must be run by someone in successful recovery, Drozdiel noted there are a number of agencies locally she can direct people to that do run treatment programs.
"I just can't get the word out there enough that there is help," Drozdiel said.