The heart-pounding rush of a winning bracket is harmless fun for many people, but for those who struggle with gambling addiction, the "Big Dance" can trigger the urge to play.
With the Twin Cities abuzz over the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the addiction experts at Fairview's Compulsive Gambling Program have advice for compulsive gamblers: Now, more than ever, is a good time to reach out for help.
"Between the Super Bowl, Final Four, and the Kentucky Derby, we're in the middle of a sports-bettors’ trifecta," says Susan Campion, a counselor for Fairview's Compulsive Gambling Program. "Sports gambling addicts are on their phones 24/7 with constant reminders to play.”
This year, an estimated 40 million people filled out 149 million March Madness brackets and wagered $4.6 billion in the process, according to the American Gaming Association.
When money is exchanged, not only are those brackets still illegal in Minnesota, they can also be a gateway to a bigger gambling problem.
How big of a problem? At least 6 million Americans are problem gamblers, according to the nonprofit National Council on Problem Gambling. It can be as debilitating as alcoholism or drug addiction, and is four times more likely to lead to suicide than other addictions.
College students are disproportionately affected by the allure of sports betting. Nearly 6 percent of college students in the U.S. are estimated to have a serious gambling problem, and research has shown that both student athletes and students who are sports fans gamble more than other students.
Gambling addiction, however, is frequently misdiagnosed, Susan says, as it’s still often seen as a financial issue, based on poor decisions rather than the makeup of one's brain.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about gambling addiction,” Susan says. "It’s a mental illness, and it triggers your brain the same way cocaine does."
How do you know whether you or a loved one is a compulsive gambler? Answer these 10 questions and learn more about Fairview’s treatment program.