It's a disease that affects millions of Americans everyday. But as part of Gambling Awareness Month, Nebraska's "Play It Safe" program is working to help those who choose to gamble, to do so safely.
It's almost that time of year again when basketball fans will begin filling out their brackets for March Madness. This is why March is also about raising the awareness of gambling addictions.
Recovering gambler John, who wishes to keep his identity hidden, is hoping his story will inspire others to get help.
Eighty-five percent of people in Nebraska say they've gambled at least once in their life. Most fill out those March Madness brackets for fun but for thousands of others it's a dangerous, costly addiction.
"Just feel so guilty and upset and be stressing out about where am I going to find the money to cover what I just lost or how am I going to get that money back?" John said.
He's a recovering gambler who realized he had a problem when he was 19. He says it started as simple betting on sports teams with his friends, but became a problem when he started placing higher bids, and losing more and more money.
It was Choices and people like director Deb Hammond that helped John start his road to recovery.
"He is very much a role model for the next person," Hammond said. "For us providers, it's awesome. I mean there's no better feeling in the world than to watch somebody walk back through your doors and tell you that their lives are back together again."
There are nearly 55,000 other Nebraskans just like John who battle with problem gambling.
The "Play It Safe" campaign is trying to guide people who choose to gamble, to do it responsibly.
"What might seem somewhat simple but like setting limits on how much time you would spend gambling or specifically how much money, that it fits within a budget that you think of it as recreation," Maya Chilese said.
John has now been clean for four years.
"It's really been a blessing," John said. "It taught me a lot and I think I'm better off today having gone through what I went through."
There are more than a dozen outlets in Nebraska for anyone who wants to seek help.
Also a 24–hour confidential helpline. That number is 1–800–GAMBLER.
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