This article was first published on The Diamondback Online By Jad Sleiman
Yi Li started playing poker online during his freshman year in his Hagerstown dorm room. At first he only played a couple hours a day, but eventually the same game that made him $6,000 over two semesters became an addiction.
"I used to play instead of doing my schoolwork. I started falling behind," the senior math and physics major said. "I realized that it was taking up all of my life - I made a decent amount of money, but it's not worth it."
Li would play in between classes and during meals. Gambling quickly joined schoolwork as a major source of stress. But when he realized at the end of his freshman year that his grades were slipping, he quit betting cold turkey.
But Li was lucky.
A recent pilot study found that 7 percent of 400 randomly selected undergraduates on the campus showed signs of gambling addictions, while the university has no gambling awareness programs.
Public Health Professor Stephen McDaniel, who led the study, said the lack of any gambling addiction awareness program on campus worried him. If students don't know what a gambling addiction is, they won't seek help, he said.
The preliminary research results showed, more than anything, that more serious studies needed to be done, McDaniel said.
In addition, a University of Missouri study found that most gambling addictions start during college years, whereas drinking and drug use tend to start in high school.
McDaniel said the majority of the problem at this university and others around the country is that students with gambling problems often do not realize they have a problem.
An awareness campaign would help problem gamblers or their friends recognize the disorder, he said.
"I don't remember seeing any. Since I don't see any, there definitely needs to be [more awareness programs]," Li said.
"Most people [with addiction problems] are in some sort of denial," said Jonathan Kandell, assistant director at the university Counseling Center.
He acknowledged the university's lack of gambling addiction programs, but added that awareness campaigns "probably wouldn't make a huge difference" because many students are reluctant to seek help for their friends.
At the University Health Center, officials said they generally treat alcohol and drug cases, but could refer gambling addicts to off-campus clinics.
"Traditionally what we've focused on is addiction as it relates to alcohol and other drugs," said Kendra Smoak, who is standing in for the assistant director for for health promotion at the health center. Smoak acknowledged "gaps" in the university's awareness programs when presented with McDaniel's findings.
A Harvard survey of universities and colleges around the nation found a little more than a quarter of schools have policies punishing gambling, while this one does not. At the University of Missouri, there is a dedicated staff that deals with gambling addicts and awareness.