Understanding Joy is a revealing documentary on the destructive nature of gambling addiction. It debuted on Maryland Public Television (MPT) on Wednesday, March 19 at 8 p.m. The one-hour special also featured a panel of experts, a call-in telephone bank to respond to viewers’ questions or requests for help, and a live Twitter feed. The documentary is now streaming online from MPT. Additionally, Understanding Joy will be re-televised on Tuesday, June 17th at 11pm on MPT-H and Friday, June 27th at 11pm on MPT2.
Understanding Joy enters the mind of a 57 year old woman whose gambling addiction has overcome her sense of morality and driven her to embezzle over $700,000 during a seven year period from two employers. As she awaits sentencing for her crime, she struggles to explain her disease to her children, to the world and to understand it herself. National experts on-screen review Joy’s symptoms and actions to address: the addictive nature of pathological gambling; the neurobiological evidence showing the brain’s addiction; the need for clinical interventions to control addictive behavior; and, the optimal response to gambling addiction from societal and legal perspectives. Joy is currently incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Maryland, sentenced to 25 years serving all but 17.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association reclassified pathological gambling as an addiction, a revision reflecting recent research that revolutionized the understanding of the effects of addictive gambling. Gamblers sometimes say they don’t “feel addicted,” but their behavior is often similar to that of other addicts as they chase their next high. Problem gambling can lead to other addictions and often spells financial disaster and family devastation as well. “Most people can gamble without it becoming an addiction, just as most people who drink alcohol do not become alcoholics,” the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Chris Welsh, M.D. explains. “This film helps build awareness of the signs of addiction and, we hope, also will underscore the need to train clinicians to better serve the gambling-addicted population.”
Expert on-screen commentary was provided by Jon Grant, J.D., M.D., M.P.H., professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago; Christopher Welsh, M.D., addiction specialist, Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Chris Anderson, forensic witness, therapist, and recovering gambling addict; and Judge Mark G. Farrell: Gambling Treatment Court, Amherst, New York.
“Understanding Joy: The Devastation of a Gambling Addiction” was commissioned by the Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling and produced by MedSchool Maryland Productions. It was released on Maryland Public Television, March 19, 2014. Experts from the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling responded to phone calls throughout the program and for an hour after airing. The program is available free of charge through the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling.