More than 100 million people can stop what they are doing right now and place a legal bet. Since sports gambling and online gambling was legalized in the Fall of 2021, there has been a 200 percent increase in calls to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

Many of those seeking help are betting money they can’t afford to lose, or telling themselves that their next bet will help them make up for the hundreds or even thousands of dollars they have already lost.

But the reality is most people will never catch up, and the odds say they could develop an addiction that for some is just as hard to overcome as alcohol or drugs.

J. Craig Allen, MD, vice president of Addiction Services for Hartford HealthCare and medical director of Rushford, said on one hand sports betting, if done in moderation, can be a fun leisurely activity that adds excitement to sporting events. But on the other hand, the addiction can spiral out of control and ruin lives.

His rule of thumb is “hope to win, expect to lose.” To ensure that you don’t go overboard, Allen said:

  • Set a limit on time and money.
  • Only bet money if you can afford to lose it.
  • Gambling should be a social activity, or form of entertainment – not a vocation.
  • Do it in social settings, and not alone.
  • Gambling should be one of many leisure activities.

Allen said if you have a history of mental health or substance use issues, you are at higher risk to become addicted to gambling and you should avoid it altogether.

He added that with the constant bombardment of ads promoting sports betting, and how easy it has become to gamble – you can play black jack or bet on the night’s baseball games right on your cell phone – the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network is paying closer attention to signs of gambling addiction than ever before and has programs that can help.

According to WebMD, warning signs include:

  • Preoccupied with gambling.
  • Consistently gamble no matter what the consequences.
  • Chasing losses, and not knowing when to quit, day after day.
  • Repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, including irritability or restlessness.

For help, Allen suggested people go to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Problem Gambling  here or the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling here.

Gambling support can also be found through Gamblers Anonymous and support for family members and loved ones at Gam-Anon.