With an estimated 150,000 problem gamblers in the state and a growing number of casino-based gambling opportunities available in Maryland and surrounding states, problem gambling has become epidemic. To explore the issue, MPT presents Understanding Joy: The Devastation of a Gambling Addiction, a revealing documentary on the destructive nature of gambling addiction. The one-hour special also will feature a panel of experts and a call-in telephone bank to respond to viewers' questions or requests for help.
Produced by Susan Hadary and John Anglim of MedSchool Maryland Productions and with funding by the Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, a program of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Understanding Joy enters the mind of Joy, a 57-year-old woman. Joy's gambling addiction has overcome her sense of morality and driven her to embezzle $700,000 from two employers. As she awaits sentencing for her crime, Joy struggles to explain her disease to her children, to the world, and to herself.
Producers Hadary and Anglim explain that the purpose of the documentary is to show the signs and symptoms of gambling addictions, to highlight the need for prevention and interventions, and, via the MPT phone bank, to demonstrate that help is available.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association reclassified pathological gambling as an addiction, a revision reflecting recent research that revolutionized the understanding of the effects of addictive gambling. Gamblers sometimes say they don't "feel addicted," but their behavior is often similar to that of other addicts as they chase their next high. Problem gambling can lead to other addictions and often spells financial disaster and family devastation as well. "Most people can gamble without it becoming an addiction, just as most people who drink alcohol do not become alcoholics," the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Chris Welsh, M.D. explains. "This film helps build awareness of the signs of addiction and, we hope, also will underscore the need to train clinicians to better serve the gambling-addicted population."
Understanding Joy executive producer for MPT Frank Batavick explains that the documentary will be presented in three segments. During breaks between segments, MPT anchor Yolanda Vazquez will interview nationally recognized local experts on gambling addiction and responsible gambling. Experts and specially trained counselors are available to receive calls from the public before, during and after the broadcast at the toll-free Gambling Helpline number 1-800-522-4700.
In the documentary, expert on-screen commentary will be provided by Jon Grant, J.D., M.D., M.P.H., professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago; Christopher Welsh, M.D., addiction specialist, Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Chris Anderson, forensic witness, therapist, and recovering gambling addict; and Judge Mark G. Farrell: Gambling Treatment Court, Amherst, New York.
To address the increase in problem gambling, the Maryland Center of Excellence of Program Gambling supports an ongoing public awareness campaign to help problem gamblers and their families become familiar with the symptoms of the addiction and how to get help. The center maintains a 24-hour help line (1-800-522-4700) and a public awareness website (www.mdproblemgambling.com) and supports numerous public outreach initiatives through MedSchool Maryland Productions.