August is a very beautiful and exciting month in upstate New York. Many people find this time of year special because they enjoy visiting the race track in Saratoga. Indeed, the horses, the track and Saratoga Springs are beautiful. For most people, gambling at the race track is a fun, recreational activity. In general, gambling is seen as a social activity and is not recognized as a potential addiction.
Please remember, however, that for some people, gambling is an addiction and comes with it all of the pain and heartache experienced by those who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. As with addiction to alcohol or other drugs, problem gambling is treatable, and help is available at treatment and 12-step self-help programs such as Gamblers Anonymous.
Youth today are bombarded by images and messages that depict gambling as exciting and glamorous. Almost 50 percent of our seventh- through 12th-graders have gambled in the past year. The truth is that 10 percent of adolescents in New York state (about 140,000 youth) have had problems due to their gambling, and an additional 10 percent are at risk of becoming problem gamblers. The younger children are when they begin gambling, the more likely they will develop a gambling problem as an adult.
We all want to protect our children from experiencing this painful addiction as adults. Please talk honestly to the children in your life about gambling. It is up to the adults to send a balanced message about the realities of gambling. Children are in a better position to judge the potential dangers of gambling if they are taught that gambling is an activity meant for entertainment only, not as a way to make money, and that there are certain risks and negative consequences associated with gambling activities.
If you or someone you know needs help with a gambling problem, please call the NYS HOPEline at 1-800-8-HOPENY or call the HFM Prevention Council at 736-8188.
ANN B. RHODES