Powerball potential trigger for gambling addiction

The rush to buy Powerball tickets intensifies as the jackpot grows in size. Wednesday night, someone could be holding a piece of paper worth $1.5 billion.

It's great if you win. But if you don't, and you're struggling with gambling addiction, you could be headed for major trouble. 

The majority of people have no trouble playing the lottery. Buying a few tickets here and there, especially when the jackpot is historically big, is fine.

But for the small percentage fighting an addiction to gambling, the frenzy surrounding the lottery can trigger dangerous feelings.

It seems everyone is dreaming of how they'll spend that Powerball jackpot: a Lamborghini, a long vacation, or, even a permanent vacation from work.It's fun to dream, but if you talk to Rita Ballard about her jackpot dreams, you'll get a different perspective.

"It's a dream which can turn into a nightmare," Ballard said.

Ballard is recovering from gambling addiction. It all started with a trip to a casino.

"Within 20 minutes, I hit a jackpot and that was all she wrote," Ballard said. "I had to go and I got the fever."

Ballard knows the highs of winning big - and she knows the depths of defeat.

"I lost a job and I lost my mind and I started gambling out of desperation," Ballard said.

As she watches the country come down with a case of "lotto fever," she worries about the vulnerable players struggling with a very real condition.

"Spending maybe $5 or something, okay," Ballard said. "Everybody's got the fever. But people like myself, the kind of fever I have, we need to run in the other direction."

"When you have a buzz, it's emotional and it can really overpower you," Dr. Damon Dye said.

Dye, of Triangle Resolutions on Riverview helps patients struggling with gambling addiction to regain control of their lives. He said for most, gambling isn't a issue. But, for a small population, the draw of winning big can be debilitating.

"That excitement, that buzz is everywhere," Dye said. "Someone who's having a problem with it, it creates an opposite effect where now, because of what they are struggling with or the situation they are in, it becomes a trigger."

According to Jennifer Kruse, the Deputy Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, when it stops being fun and starts negatively impacting your life, your job and your bank account, it's time to get help.

"It's all about keeping gambling recreational," Kruse said. "Setting time and money limits. Sticking to them. Not gambling more than you can afford. Knowing your odds. Knowing the chances you actually have to win.."

"With over six million Americans experiencing problems, it can be problematic for those individuals having a jackpot this high," Kruse continued. "It's tempting, it can lure people in recovery out of recovery. It can also cause people who have never gambled before to begin gambling and subsequently develop problems."

Ballard said she is no longer fazed by the winnings at stake.

"You can't always win," she said.

She's six years along the path to recovery, now working as a peer recovery coach at Valle Counseling in Brandon.

"It's hard, but you can overcome it. I did," Ballard said. "There is hope. There is definitely hope."

The main message here is to play responsibly. There's even a tab on the Powerball website, reminding players "never spend more than you can afford... It's just a game."
If you are struggling with gambling or know someone who is, you can call the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling at 1-888-admit-it (1-888-236-4848).