SHREVEPORT -- Today the Department of Health and the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling kicked off Problem Gambling Awareness Week in Shreveport with an open house at the Center of Recovery (CORE), one of the nation's premier residential treatment facilities for problem gamblers.

Problem or pathological gambling is sometimes called a "hidden addiction." To help raise awareness about Louisiana's services for those experiencing problems with gambling, Governor Bobby Jindal has declared March 6-12 as Problem Gambling Awareness Week. The movement coincides with National Problem Gambling Awareness Week.

"Pathological gambling is a 'hidden addiction' because those with gambling problems don't exhibit the external, physical symptoms of alcoholism or drug addiction, but they do suffer social, family and financial problems as a result of their gambling," said Department of Health and Hospitals-Office of Behavioral Health Medical Director Rochelle Head-Dunham, M.D. "These issues can be addressed through counseling."

According to a 2008 study conducted by the Department of Health and Hospitals - Office of Behavioral Health, problem gambling is a serious issue facing approximately 99,000 Louisianians. Research shows that problem gambling also affects the family of the addict. Children of problem gamblers are often the victims of abuse and neglect as a result of parental problem gambling. As much as 50 percent of spouses of problem gamblers have been abused. Problem gamblers often resort to crime in order to pay debts, maintain appearances or continue to gamble. Additionally, research shows that one in five problem gamblers have attempted suicide.

"Most adults who choose to gamble do so responsibly. For those who can no longer control their gambling, there is help available in Louisiana," notes Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling Executive Director Reece Middleton. "One call to our Problem Gambling Helpline can connect a distressed person with people and resources here in Louisiana to help them get off the bet. This is something for all Louisianians to be proud of - the state is leading the nation in recognizing and treating compulsive gambling."

The state offers a full range of counseling and treatment programs for problem and compulsive gambling free of charge to Louisiana citizens. Since it opened in 1999, CORE has treated more than 3,000 compulsive gamblers. The state's toll-free helpline handled more than 2,000 "intake calls" or direct requests for help last year. Louisiana also has a website aimed at preventing problem gambling among youth, www.thegamble.org. For more information about problem gambling, please call the Louisiana Problem Gamblers Helpline at 1-877-770-STOP (7867) or visit www.helpforgambling.org.

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's blogTwitter account and Facebook page.