With the football season at an end, sports fans are looking forward to one of the biggest, most exciting events in the sports year — March Madness. The NCAA Division I collegiate men’s basketball tournament has been played since 1939 and is now a yearly tradition. Fans transform into avid enthusiasts, donning jerseys and bragging about their NCAA bracket picks. However, sometimes that enthusiasm takes the form of sports betting.
There’s a reason March Madness coincides with Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM). This sporting event has a dark side, and many sports fans find that what they thought was a pastime or hobby has transformed into a dangerous gambling addiction.
How March Madness Betting Leads to Problem Gambling
As the chill of winter begins to dwindle, March Madness chatter becomes inescapable. From friends and co-workers obsessed with their brackets to countless commercials and online advertisements, it’s hard not to get drawn into the excitement.
You don’t have to be a basketball fan to get in on the action. Virtually anyone can fill in a March Madness bracket, betting a few dollars in the process. In fact, nearly 50 million people in the U.S. bet a combined $8.5 billion on March Madness in 2019. With so many people wagering, it can seem harmless enough to participate. However, for those prone to problem gambling, the buzz and excitement of March Madness can turn dangerous. The windfall of gambling opportunities can also expose young people, especially those in college, to the dangers of sports betting.
If you’re predisposed to a gambling addiction, your brain chemistry is similar to those who experience drug or alcohol addiction. You may feel a rush at the thought of betting before you’ve even decided to wager. From there, you can slip deeper and deeper into a life of problem gambling.
The Dangers of March Madness Sports Betting
Those who are addicted to gambling, whether it’s sports betting or online gambling sites, feel an uncontrollable urge to gamble away money — even if it’s negatively impacting their lives and the lives of their loved ones. An untreated gambling addiction can lead to overwhelming debt, broken relationships, lost jobs and other devastating consequences.
If you’re not sure if you or a loved one struggles with problem gambling, here are some signs to look out for:
- Demonstrating a preoccupation with gambling
- Lying to conceal the extent of the gambling problem
- Gambling increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement
- Feeling restless or irritable when attempting to quit gambling
- Trying but failing to cut back or stop gambling
- Chasing losses to get even
- Experiencing relational or employment problems
Help for People Struggling With Sports Betting
If you struggle with sports betting, here are some tips to help you get through March Madness without slipping into addiction:
- Remove yourself from situations or people that may trigger an urge to gamble.
- Excuse yourself from any gambling pools among friends or at work.
- Contact a friend, family member or counselor if you feel the urge to gamble.
- Find other ways to enjoy March Madness, such as watching the games with friends.
Gambling Addiction Treatment at Gateway Foundation
If gambling is causing you or your family harm, you need evidence-based, personalized treatment to help you break free. At Gateway Foundation, we specialize in helping those with gambling addictions, teaching them the coping skills they need to resist these often uncontrollable urges. Don’t get carried away by March Madness. Instead, contact us to learn how we can help you.