The music, the flashing lights, the thrill of the next win.
"It is sort of the hidden addiction. You can't see someone on the street and point to them as a gambling addict," said Chris Miciotto, a recovering gambling addict.
"Where you can if you see an alcoholic who's drunk or somebody who's on drugs," he continued. "You can point to them and say that person has a problem. But for gamblers, we mask our addiction very well."
Gambling can be a real problem and, if untreated, can lead to suicide.
The good news, help is available. And it's free if you live in Louisiana.
"Slot machines. Starting out at lower levels, 50 cents, $1. And then it became a point of where I was doing the $10 slot machines, even the $100 slot machines," Miciotto recalled.
"It started out trying to take small attorney fees that I had and turn them into larger fees by gambling. Unfortunately, I had some early success in that area; and that led me into more more gambling.
"And, eventually, your lucky streak does run out as everyone knows," Miciotto continued.
"And it was the snowball effect. I just kept gambling more and more, losing more and more. And then, finally, I reached a point where I did something that attorneys get in big trouble for, and that was take money out of my client trust account to gamble."
Ronda Rivers said her gambling addiction got to the point to where she was missing work.
"I would go at lunch and I’d be gone for the rest of the day," said Rivers, who also is a recovering gambling addict. "I was spending $400 to $500 a day."
Two different people, battling the same addiction behind closed doors.
"I was pawning things that didn’t belong to me," Rivers said. "I took a loan out on my husband's car that he didn’t know about."
She hit rock bottom after gambling away her daughter's college tuition.
"Every time I'd take that money out, I’d say I’m just borrowing it, I’ll put it back. And I never did and that money was gone. It was in the video poker machine."
Miciotto said he felt he was so far in over his head that he couldn't find a way out.
"I knew in my mind it was going to destroy my name, my family name, things that people had spent a lot of time building up. And I thought I had destroyed that. And I thought that I was going to be an embarrassment to my daughter, who was seven at the time. And I, frankly, just thought everybody would be better without me."
The fear of disappointing their families led them to the brink of death.
"I took steps. I actually drove to Oklahoma with the intent of ending my life in a hotel room somewhere," Miciotto said. "And I got to the border of Oklahoma, and I just could not get the thought of my daughter growing up without a father and I turned around."
Rivers said she also was thinking the only way out was to kill herself.
"I took a bunch of pills. I got scared, I woke my husband up. I couldn’t let him find me, and I couldn’t leave my kids without a mother. I grew up without mine. My Mom passed away when I was 11 years old. I have grandchildren; I wanted to see them grow up."
Rivers and Miciotto both then turned to Louisiana's Center of Recovery.
"To come into the program and come to treatment and see other people in all walks of life, that I’m not the only one, it was very comforting," Rivers explained.
"There was another attorney here when I first entered CORE back in early 2007," Miciotto recalled. "So that was a big thing for me, to know that I’m not the only one suffering with this addiction."
Rivers now is seven years into her recovery; Miciotto 11.
They now spend their time as advocates for life, showing others that recovery is real.
"I could not see this 12 years ago. I could not fathom how great my life is, and I came close to ending it all," Miciotto said.
"The thing that bothers me when I think about it is my daughter is graduating from high school with honors and what would I have done to her life if I had ended mine? It’s a scary thought."
Rivers said: "It (the addiction) brought me into treatment; it brought me into the recovery process. It has allowed me to like me for the first time in my life."
Are you living with a compulsive gambler? Ask yourself these questions to find out.
Do you or does someone you know have a gambling problem?
Treatment for gambling addiction is free in Louisiana.
Help is available 24 hours a day by calling the Louisiana Gambler's Helpline toll-free at (877) 770-STOP (7867) or the National Confidential Hotline toll-free at (800) 522-4700.
More resources are available from the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling's website.
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