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Zepf Center seeing increase in people seeking treatment for gambling addiction

Statistics show 900,000 adults in Ohio are at-risk for problem gambling, including thousands in Lucas County. Addiction treatment has spiked since casinos reopened.

TOLEDO, Ohio — March is known for a lot of things, but did you know it's also "Problem Gambling Awareness Month?"

Statistics show 900,000 adults in Ohio are at-risk for problem gambling and that includes thousands in Lucas County.

After Josh McClellan, 38, of Findlay left the Army in 2010, gambling became a big problem. He was hooked on card games, casino slots, everything. At his worst, he gambled away $1,200 to 1,800 a month.

"I've been in psychiatric wards at the VA due to suicidal ideation because of gambling," said McClellan, a recovering gambler. 

The Zepf Center, which offers addiction treatment in Lucas County, leads the state in identifying and assessing problem gamblers. 

The symptoms of problem gambling include: 

  • increasing preoccupation with gambling
  • a need to bet more money more frequently
  • “chasing” losses (betting even more to try to recoup previous losses)
  • restlessness/irritability when trying to stop 
  • loss of control manifested by continuation of gambling despite mounting, serious, negative consequences 
  • in extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide ($7 billion social cost in America alone!)

"People who cross the line into problem gambling start to live secret lives where not everyone knows where they're at," said Steve Kapela, the Manager of Gambling Treatment and Prevention at the Zepf Center. "They start borrowing money to gamble. They're not paying their debts." 

Since casinos re-opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the center saw a 50% increase in the number of new people seeking gambling treatment who didn't have other addictions.

There are more than 40 people in outpatient gambling treatment at the Zepf Center. This number is higher than the number of people in residential treatment and detox for substance abuse disorder combined. 

The Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Service Board estimates there are over 3,600 gamblers in Lucas County who may meet the criteria for a gambling disorder. But 80 percent of those with the disorder will never seek treatment. 

Those with a gambling disorder have a higher risk of alcohol abuse, drug issues, depression and anxiety.

McClellan says the first step is admitting you have a problem.

"Just reach out for it. Don't be proud," he said. "Don't think you're alone because you're not. There's plenty of people struggling the same way you are."

After getting treatment himself, McClellan hasn't placed a bet since July 2017. He's living proof there's hope and he wants to help others by sharing his experience.

For information about treatment: 

  • Zepf Center: (419)-841-7701
  • Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline 1-800-589-9966
  • CRISIS TEXT LINE: TEXT 4HOPE TO 741741 

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