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Rolling the Dice –With Your Life

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Gambling addiction is a growing, but often hidden, problem in the United States

For Deron Drumm, gambling wasn’t a problem — it was a solution.

Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Drumm always struggled with anxiety, which increasingly got worse as he aged. “I thought bad things would happen to those I cared about if I didn’t perform certain rituals,” he says. “On some level, I knew this wasn’t really true, but I was compelled. It was exhausting, and I was desperate for relief.”

He found that relief one summer at age 12 when he visited his grandfather who owned racehorses as a hobby. “He took me to the track and placed a small bet on one of his horses. He won by a lot,” he says. “That win gave me a sense of peace that I had never experienced before.”

After that, Drumm sought out similar avenues that would make him feel “right”: He started sneaking into jai alai games in his native Connecticut and betting, welcoming the release of dopamine and the distraction from his pain that occurred with each bet.

By his late teens, he had fully submerged himself into gambling. He had a bookie and was already in serious trouble for owing money. But that didn’t matter: He had relief from his pain that even the prescribed medications from his psychiatrist couldn’t manage.

From the outside, Drumm seemed to have it all together, pouring his energy into his education and enjoying academic success. He got accepted to law school, but shortly after starting took a leave of absence. When he was not hiding under his bed, he was in casinos or at the racetrack. He eventually found the strength to return to school and became an attorney.

His achievements did little to stem his gambling. He took out student loans that went unpaid, charged up his credit cards, and embezzled more than $200,000 from his law firm.  He lied to family and friends, who thought he simply made bad financial decisions. And those who knew he gambled did not know the extent; at casinos he would leave his friends playing low-stakes games under the guise of using the restroom to wage larger bets elsewhere. At work, he used the company computer to bet on horses.

Along the way, Drumm suffered two strokes and had open-heart surgery — which he attributes to stress and high blood pressure from gambling and emotional distress. He contemplated suicide.

But he hadn’t hit rock bottom yet.

Drumm’s wake-up call came when his firm discovered he was stealing money. He avoided jail by agreeing to pay restitution and enter a rehabilitation center. Over the coming years, he was in and out of court and was disbarred.

Left with nothing, Drumm began to start his life anew.

An ‘Insidious’ Disorder

For many Americans, gambling — whether it is in a casino, playing the lottery; fantasy sports; or online betting — is a casual pastime. There’s the rush of wagering one’s hard-earned money on a dream of the win, big or small. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults have gambled at least once in their lives, according to the Gambling Addiction Index. While research shows that most adults who choose to gamble do so responsibly, the 2013 National Survey of Problem Gambling Services estimates there are 5.77 million disordered gamblers in the United States in need of treatment.

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