Special Assignment: Man loses far more than money to gambling addiction

By: Jeff Anderson Email
By: Jeff Anderson Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock--March 20, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ga.---With day two of the NCAA Tournament underway, millions of people have placed some sort of bet on the outcomes of the games. For many it's a form of entertainment, but for others, placing that bet is feeding a devastating addiction; gambling.

Overcoming an addiction to gambling is a monumental task. For Charles Strickland, it's a mountain he's been climbing for two years and he says he may never see the top of it.

Charles Strickland spends a lot of time these days on his back porch. It's a place filled with the sounds of nature and it's far away from this sound of scratch off lottery tickets.

"I dropped as much as $300 or $400. And it was $300 or $400 I didn't have" he told us.

That's how much Charles would spend on lottery tickets in a day. And it cost him in ways money can't measure.

"The day they served the divorce papers, I didn't see it coming. I should have, but I didn't" he said.

Charles lost his wife all because he couldn't stop buying scratch-off tickets. It was a losing situation on all counts. He says he got into the lottery because it was just easy.

"You get 3 or 4 winners and you say I got this thing licked." But he was the only one getting licked.

He says he always thought a big payday would rescue him.

"You keep thinking, if i win the big money, I can pay it off." But that never happened.

It turns out the divorce was what Charles needed to face reality. He came to Augusta Psychotherapy and Dr. Warran Burham for treatment. But by this point, he had already done a ton of damage.

"How much is the most money you ever owned?" I asked him.

"$10,000," he replied.

"How much do you think you have of that today?" I asked.

"Zip," he said.

"Zero?" I asked.

"Zero. It was gone in a week to ten days," he admitted.

"How many non-winning tickets do you think you've had?" I asked. "Hundreds, thousands?"

"Yep," he said.

"Tens of thousands?" I asked.

"Yep," he replied.

Dr. Burnham says getting through a gambling addiction is much like getting over a drug addiction. And in the beginning, an addict like Charles will actually feel physical symptoms.

"They're detoxing. That process isn't simple. They're not feeling better. They feel worse," Dr. Burnham told us.

There is no magic formula to overcoming a gambling addiction. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Then, Dr. Burnham says, a combination of psychotherapy, group therapy, spiritual help and medicine can get you through it.

Along with Dr. Burnham's professional help, Charles stayed on the recovery track with, of all things, Lego trains. He says it was something that occupied his mind.

He'll be the first to admit he's not cured. He never will be. But as he continues to take those never-ending steps to recovery, he hopes one day, he can get back something he lost.

"Hopefully my wife and I get back together. If we don't, I got nobody to blame, but myself. I lied to her about it. Plain and simple. The gambling was a problem. Now I'm suffering the consequences of it," he said with a sigh.

If you think you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, please call the National Council on Problem Gambling at 1-800-522-4700, or you can click here for more information:

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