Gambling addiction is a very real problem for many families throughout the state.

To get a better idea of how serious the issue is, we spoke to people who’ve seen its impact firsthand.

Four percent of North Dakotans — or about 19,000 people — had a gambling addiction in 2017. That’s according to the Department of Human Services.

Lisa Vig, a program director with Gambler’s Choice, says she believes there’s a stigma keeping people from treatment — and she thinks that number is actually much higher.

“I think there are many people that are suffering, many family members who are embarrassed to come forward and divulge about financial problems, relationship problems, emotional problems. I believe that a lot of it is resulting from gambling issues that are being hidden,” said Vig.

Gambler’s Choice is an outpatient counseling service for those affected by gambling addiction.

We sat down with Daryl Gronfur, a man who says his addiction to gambling hurt those he cared about most.

“I feel bad about it. I didn’t want to gamble, but I was. I wanted to quit for my wife and kids and everything., but I didn’t know how to deal with my life on a realistic basis,” said Gronfur.

He says his addiction led him to a very low point in his life.

“I had 38 cents in my pocket, I had the clothes on my back and I didn’t have anywhere to go. It was just the guilt was getting to me. I considered my gambling at that point terminal because I was ready to drive off into the river,” said Gronfur.

Gronfur is part of a Bismarck-Mandan gamblers support group that meets every Thursday and Sunday at Good Shepard Lutheran Church.

He says he’s gone 31 years without gambling, and he wants to share his story so no one else gets lost in the shuffle.

“Most people can go and gamble without having a problem, but there’s a lot of people when they do have a problem they have nowhere to turn. They don’t know what to do, and it usually destroys their life,” said Gronfur.

Professionals working to help those affected say the situation is only going to get worse without help.

“It’s in every local restaurant and bar. We have casinos within a very short driving range. You have it in your pocket or in your purse or on your phone — online gambling, sports betting. All of those things have been increasing significantly within the last year,” said Vig.

Vig says many people who struggle with gambling addictions also are in recovery for other addictive behaviors and asks people to look out for warning signs.

For a list of support groups in the state, click here.