Gambling is a problem for some

March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines gambling as risking something of value, usually money, on the outcome of an event decided at least partially by chance. The National Council on Problem Gambling defines problem gambling as: “All gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits. The essential features are increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.” The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) 5, used for mental health diagnoses, defines problem gambling as a Substance Related and Addictive Disorder.

More than 75% of Americans have gambled, leading to the view that gambling is harmless entertainment. SAMSHA states that according to large national surveys .5% or 1.5 million Americans suffer from pathological gambling. Two to four times more people suffer from problem gambling. Applying these percentages between 600 and 1,200 Washington County Residents have an issue with problem gambling. Problem gambling crosses all ethnic, race, and socioeconomic barriers. Men are more likely to have an issue with problem gambling than women. Lower income people are also more likely to have a problem. Gambling problems are also associated with poor health. Only 10% of people with a gambling problem seek treatment. People with problem gambling are more likely to seek treatment for other behavioral health conditions than gambling. Gambling disorders are linked to other behavioral health disorders; 73.2% have an alcohol disorder, 38.1% have drug disorders, 60.4% have a nicotine disorder, 49.6% experience mood disorders, 41.3% experience anxiety disorders, and 60.8% experience personality disorders.

Problem gambling is a serious issue for our community and for the nation as a whole. It impacts our families, our businesses, our legal system, and our community. Problem gambling can be treated. Some treatments are: behavioral therapy, which focuses on altering behavior; cognitive therapy, which is directed at changing distorted or maladaptive thoughts; cognitive-behavioral therapy, which tries to modify negative or self defeating thoughts and behaviors; and motivational interviewing, which seeks to help clients address their ambivalence toward behavioral changes. In addition to psychiatric services there are Gamblers Anonymous meetings. In this area there is a closed (for individuals with problem gambling only) meeting on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. at Westbrook Mental Health, 2121 7th St., Parkersburg, W.Va., 26101.

Further information can be found in the SAMSHA Advisory Gambling Problems: An Introduction for Behavioral Health Service Providers at www.samhsa.gov. The National Council on Problem Gambling can provide resource information (www.ncpgambling.org), as well as Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org).

Brett Nicholas is a member of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears the last Saturday of every month on Opinion.