March Madness and Problem Gambling Awareness Month

As we all enjoy watching the Heels make their way through this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, it is an important time to remember that March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month across the nation.

Image courtesy of Doug L on Flickr.
Image courtesy of Doug L. on Flickr.

Gambling occurs anytime you risk something of value on an event or activity in which the outcome is uncertain, with the hopes of receiving something of value in return, according to DSM 5. Common forms of gambling include daily fantasy or other sports betting, online poker, card/casino games, lottery tickets, and animal racing.

For many people, gambling is a fun recreational activity that is done socially and responsibly. Responsible gambling occurs when a person sets limits and views the money merely as the cost of entertainment. For others, however, gambling can lead to a harmful addiction known as a gambling disorder.

Image courtesy of Ralf Roletschek on Wikimedia.
Image courtesy of Ralf Roletschek on Wikimedia.

Gambling disorders affect about 5–10 percent of college students, which is disproportionately high compared to the larger adult population. Gambling disorders are also over-represented in male-identified individuals, members of Greek organizations, those who binge drink, and those who play video games obsessively.

As you watch your brackets this month, be sure to also watch out for the following signs of a gambling problem, either in yourself or in your friends:

  • Progressive preoccupation with gambling
  • Increased use of gambling language
  • Increased talk about wins and attempts to hide gambling losses
  • Loss of interest in non-gambling activities
  • Lying about engaging in gambling behavior
  • Compulsion to “chase losses” (gamble more to recover lost money)
  • Unexplained debt or attempts to borrow money
  • Feast or famine cash flow
  • Frequent unexplained absences from classes
  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Increased symptoms of depression
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

If you or someone you know is experiencing a problem with gambling, there are many ways to get help and support. You can always drop by Student Wellness or Counseling and Psychological Services (both located in James Taylor Campus Health Building).  Additionally, you can call, text, or chat with free and confidential help from the North Carolina Problem Gambling Program.

Gambling disorders are similar to substance use disorders and oftentimes people who struggle with these issues can find help in similar places. At UNC, the Carolina Recovery Program is an on-campus community dedicated to supporting people in recovery from addictive disorders. Consider checking it out if you think you or someone you know might have a gambling problem. If you’re just interested to see how your gambling activity compares with other college students, take the brief survey found here.

If you do choose to gamble, here are some tips for gambling responsibly:

  • Set your limit before you start gambling. Any money spent on gambling should be considered the cost of entertainment – only use money that you can afford to lose.
  • Avoid gambling when feeling lonely, depressed, angry, stressed, when coping with loss, or as a way to impress others.
  • Avoid gambling in conjunction with excessive alcohol or drug use.
  • Avoid borrowing money to gamble — it is always a high-risk decision.
  • Only gamble when it is legal.

Whether or not you choose to gamble, March is alw
ays an exciting time here at UNC.  Take some time this year to enjoy the tournament, and remember that you are obligated to cheer for two teams: (1) The Tar Heels and (2) whoever is playing Duke.


Shane currently works at UNC Student Wellness as the Program Assistant for Recovery Initiatives. He is in his first year of the Master of Social Work program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Prior to starting at UNC, Shane lived in Asheville and worked in wilderness therapy programs for adolescents and emerging adults. He holds a BA in English from Georgia State University and an AS in Outdoor Leadership from Young Harris College.