Miami church starts peer group for gambling addicts

Former gambler explains Chance for Change
Miami church starts peer group for gambling addicts

Only twenty-five percent of people who have a gambling problem reach out for help.It’s been called a hidden addiction by Oklahoma helpline experts.So a church in Miami, Oklahoma created a peer group, to give gambling addicts a “Chance to Change.”

Arik Barnes showed us where his peer group meets at the First Assembly of God church in Miami. Those battling a gambling addiction are surrounded by faith based messages here. It is what Barnes says helped him kick a fifteen year gambling habit.

“I gave my life to Jesus and began to dislike sin in my life, dislike the things that were dragging me down. I’m proud to say I’m past all that now,” Barnes said.

You don’t have to go far in the four states are to find a casino, especially in Miami and proximity created a problem for Arik. “Everywhere you look there’s a commercial about a casino. There’s a billboard. It’s on the radio. It’s everywhere. So someone that has a problem with this, everywhere you look it’s saying come back and try again.”

Wylie Harwell the executive director at the Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling runs the state Helpline. He says with fourteen casinos in Ottawa and Delaware counties, the area is saturated. And he says a 2015 prevalency study showed gambling addiction is more common if a person lives within fifty miles of a casino.

Arik’s first experience was at one, two blocks from his home. “I tried twenty dollars and won 500 the first time I ever been there. And so yeah that was pretty much how it all started,” he explained.

In Oklahoma, Harwell said, 3.2 percent of adults qualify for the gambling disorder diagnosis. That is nearly double national number but Harwell calls it a hidden addiction.

He said of gambling addicts, “They’ll appear for treatment for depression, money problems, anxiety and other psychological disorders and never mention that they have a gambling issue. So, we have to train our counselors to ask the right questions.” Harwell said 96% of the population can choose to gambling for entertainment but for other individuals gambling changes the brain chemistry in the same way drugs and alcohol do especially if it is a means for escape.

Harwell said there is a shortage of counselors in Northeast Oklahoma so a peer group can help but every individual is different.
Arik isn’t state trained. But believes success can happen in the peer group which will use the Chance to Change curriculum. That includes a workbook, video presentations and an accountability period where they discuss the week’s challenges and victories.

But he added when in the meeting room, “Like it says right there, for with God nothing shall be impossible.”

The peer group is a thirteen week program but has open sessions so you can join anytime. It meets every Sunday at 6:00 p.m. at the First Assembly of God church on Steve Owen boulevard. If you have questions call the church at 1-918-540-1585.

Or you can also call the state gambling helpline at 1-800-522-4700