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March 2015 is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, a grassroots public awareness and outreach campaign’s goal is to educate the general public and healthcare professionals about the warning signs of problem gambling and to raise awareness about the help that is available both locally and nationally.

The tag-line for this year’s campaign is “Problem Gambling: Have the Conversation”.

DSM 5 in 2013 moved pathological gambling from “Impulse Control Disorder” classification, to Substance Related and Addictive Disorders and renamed it Gambling Disorder. However, gambling often remains an invisible addiction and largely goes unrecognized. There are no smells or track marks that are easily identifiable. We cannot utilize blood tests, urine screens or hair follicles to detect gambling behavior.

During Problem Gambling Awareness month we will be talking about ways to “have the conversation” about gambling and problem gambling across a range of professional and personal settings. Studies have shown high rates of problem gambling (up to 50%) among individuals in treatment for substance use disorders and mental health disorders (up to 20%).   In primary health care settings, even very moderate levels of gambling have been associated with increased rates of medical problems such as hypertension, obesity and accidents. Additionally, the research has shown that if unaddressed, these gambling problems decrease

treatment effectiveness and add to treatment costs. It is therefore critical for both behavioral health care and primary health care providers to “have the conversation” with their clients about the impact of gambling and problem gambling on their recovery, health and well-being.

Problem Gambling Awareness Month is a great time to “have the conversation” in our schools, faith-based communities and in our homes. Youth have been found to have 2-4 times the rates of gambling problems as adults and gambling is often the first “risky” behavior children and teens engage in. A young person’s first gambling experience is often likely to be in their home, and parental attitudes and behaviors around gambling strongly influence a young person’s likelihood to begin gambling at a young age. Since we know that beginning to gamble at a young age may contribute to developing problems later in life, it is essential for parents, teachers, coaches and other youth leaders to “have the conversation” with the young people in their lives.

Whether you are talking to clients, children and teens, family members, employees and co-workers or policy makers, have the conversation about gambling in a non-judgmental, matter of fact manner, to encourage honesty and disclosure. There are numerous resources available for prevention, awareness, screening, assessment and treatment of gambling disorders. Visit the Resources page on our website. It is a great time to connect with us, the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling, or the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Ways to start the conversation in Health Care and Behavioral Health Settings:

 

+ Ask clients to fill out a problem gambling screen (South Oaks Gambling Screen, Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen). Give them the scoring key to self score and then have a discussion.

 

+ Ask clients to tell you about a time they won something or had a big win.

 

+ Ask clients to tell you about someone they know who has a gambling problem. How do you know if someone has a problem? What is high risk gambling? What is low risk gambling?

Problem Gambling Screens:

Ways to start the
conversation with
young people:

 

+ Ask them to tell you about when they have won something

 

+  Ask them to tell you the silliest bet they ever made

 

+  Ask them to tell you what kinds of things their friends use to bet with

 

+ Ask them what they think gambling is