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From problem gambler to advocate for recovery
Wes Wood
Wes Wood

March 31, 2014 — Wes Wood is passionate about telling people there is hope through treatment for people with a gambling addiction. Wood, a former problem gambler, helped found Voices of Problem Gambling Recovery, a non-profit that works to educate, advocate and promote recovery.

Wood travels throughout the state and the country meeting with community groups, businesses, prevention programs and legislators, educating them about problem gambling and advocating for people to get the help they need.

"The main things I want people to know is that problem gambling is real. There is hope. There is help. It is free. And, it works."
~ Wes Wood

"Most communities don't realize that there is free treatment for all those affected by problem gambling – spouses, family members. I tell them that, according to statistics, one or more of you in the room – or one of your employees – has a problem with gambling," said Wood, 63, of Portland.

Wood cites the facts off the top of his head: There are 81,000 problem gamblers in Oregon; one in 37 adults has a problem with gambling; problem gambling costs Oregon about $508.4 million dollars annually.

But help is available for those who need it. Treatment is free for all Oregonians, regardless of health care coverage. Family and others directly affected by the problem gambler also can receive free counseling and help. The Oregon Health Authority Addictions and Mental Health Division licenses and oversees problem gambling services throughout the state. Funding comes from Oregon Lottery revenue, and services are provided by local community programs.

Wood knows first-hand about problem gambling and the effectiveness of treatment. His problem with gambling began in the mid-1990s when video poker began in Oregon. Wood said he was going through some traumatic times and was also suffering from clinical depression. By 2005, he sought treatment through Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, where he spent two years in outpatient treatment.

"I learned that – whether it is residential or outpatient – treatment gives everyone a time to pause. It gives respite from the chaos. Treatment acts like a referee in the ring. It makes everyone go to their corner and take a breath. I learned – and I now tell others, 'There is hope through treatment.'"

It was after treatment in 2007 that Wood and his counselor in the program created Voices of Problem Gambling Recovery. Taking the recommendation of the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling, they started providing education about the signs of problem gambling and putting out the message that there is free treatment that works.

As part of Wood's recovery treatment, he learned that he had to replace his time spent gambling with something constructive. So he now bicycles thousands of miles a year. Last July, he and his wife Elaine bicycled in the annual Ragbrai, a 468-mile-route across Iowa from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. He also works as a construction management consultant and is a board member of the Oregon Addictions and Mental Health Planning and Advisory Committee.

Wood said he spends more than half of his time trying to get the word out about problem gambling.

"The main things I want people to know is that problem gambling is real. There is hope. There is help. It is free. And, it works."

If you are gambling too much (or someone you know is), call the Oregon Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-877-MYLIMIT or chat with a certified gambling addiction counselor live online at 1877mylimit.org and find a treatment facility near you.