Understanding addiction, helping others

By Matt Porter

March 20, 2013 Updated Mar 21, 2013 at 9:56 AM EDT

Conklin, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Lesa Densmore understands addiction better than most.

The division one field hockey player grew hooked on gambling in college at the University of Maine.

By her late 20s, she was making up dead relatives to ditch work and gamble.

"So you lie to the people that matter the most to you," Densmore said. "I lied to my parents, I lied to my significant other, I lied to my friends, I lied to my clients. I lost my my home. I lived in a tent for eight months. I had vehicle repossessions."

What started with penny poker in her teens consumed her by her 30s with internet poker and casino gambling.

"Toward the end I would be living in the parking lot at the casinos and getting up the next day and going back in," she said.

Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Lavin, of Lourdes CORNER for Youth and Family Services, said addicts lose control, and only find help usually after hitting rock bottom.

"Ideas that they have, that they think they may control or there may be a sense of denial over the problem until it gets bad enough they're willing to seek help," Lavin said.

The National Institute of Mental Health reported in 2008 that there are 4.2 million people addicted to gambling.

More than 75 percent of gambling addicts also reportedly suffer from depression. Gambling addicts have the highest suicide rate among all recognized types of addictions including drugs and alcohol.

It almost ended for Densmore after she swallowed a lethal mix of pain killers and other medications.

She survived.

And the next morning, she was back at the casino.

"That was an eye opener for me," Densmore said, "That this has to stop, my life has to stop right here."

Densmore spent eight weeks in a treatment facility in Baltimore. Since then, she's become a certified recovery specialist helping others with their addictions.

"This is not just a moral weakness. People who choose help are strong individuals," she said. "And addiction is not something a person chooses, but treatment or doing something about it is a choice."

Densmore speaks at schools across the country about compulsive gambling. More information on her work can be found at her website.

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