Marcia Adams’ winning ticket was a Quick Pick. She bought it from a food mart in Atlanta earlier this year and won $72 million. Many delighted in her good fortune but were dumbfounded when Adams, 33, said she was keeping her job. Her reason? “I love what I do.” Her decision might sound like an anomaly, but playing the lottery certainly isn’t.

For many, the journey to the corner store for a lottery ticket is a weekly ritual. Shelling out a few bucks for the chance of a big payback seems worth the gamble. In fact, a study recently showed that 21 percent of those surveyed thought that the lottery was the most practical path to wealth, while another report found that households with annual incomes under $13,000 spend 9 percent of their cash searching for their proverbial golden ticket.

That’s not always a good look for those who gamble recreationally, says Renee Cunningham-Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis.
“[Some] 2 percent [of gamblers]  experience significant problems because it’s not about winning the money,” she says. “It’s about being in action or either gambling to feel better. It’s a way to almost self-medicate or to cope with life’s circumstances. Gambling with $100 may be significant if that money is being taken from daily living expenses [such as the] mortgage or food.”

Perhaps Notorious B.I.G. said it best: “Mo money mo problems.” Take Jeffrey Dampier for instance. He was destined for the good life—or so he thought—after winning $20 million in 1996 in the Illinois Lottery. After showering his family with lavish gifts, his sister-in-law and her boyfriend kidnapped and murdered the millionaire in 2005. And Curtis Sharp Jr. became an overnight sensation after taking home $5 million in a 1982 New Jersey lottery. The former maintenance man, known for his dapper dress, even landed on the cover of JET magazine. A few years later, he was $200,000 in debt.
“Research has shown that individuals who go from rags to riches almost instantly experience some problems,” explains Cunningham-Williams. “You hear these stories of people [whose dreams came true]. They bought the ticket and won; yet they are experiencing a ripple effect of losing friends and needing to change overnight. If you were to wager [on your future], your [best] bet would be to stay in school, stay employed and save your money.”

For more information about gambling addiction and treatment, contact the National Council on Problem Gambling’s 24-hour confidential helpline at 1-800-522-4700, or visit—MAC