Written by Brian Morris and Alexandria Ranciato
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, the goals of the designated month are to “increase public awareness of problem gambling and the availability of prevention, treatment, and recovery services:” and to “encourage healthcare providers to screen clients for problem gambling.”
RNP takes problem (or disordered) gambling seriously and many of its counselors, recovery coaches, and social workers are trained to recognize the signs of and know the resources available to treat problem gambling. Some staff members have earned their Specialty Certificate in Problem Gambling from the CT Certification Board.
Brian Morris is a Care Manager at Community Center for Integrated Health (CCIH) and one of RNP’s leads on Disordered Gambling Treatment. Brian’s hope is that more RNP Staff members receive a Specialty Certificate in Problem Gambling, which requires 25 hours of study. Ideally, Brian says, each RNP house and unit will have at least one certified staff member.
Brian has been at RNP for five years. He says the access to gambling has increased exponentially in that short amount of time. Phone apps, online websites, and non-cash betting transactions have brought gambling to people’s fingertips.
“Not too long ago, you would have to go to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or Foxwoods to bet on sports,” Brian says. “Now, all casinos and apps offer it. The rabbit hole is getting bigger. It will become a problem for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have a problem because they didn’t have a place to bet. Now it’s on people’s smartphones and people are getting deeper and deeper into it.”
Disordered gambling, Brian says, is more difficult to spot than most other types of addiction or mental health problems. With drug or alcohol problems, there is a scent, change in appearance, or other telltale signs. Without going through someone’s finances, problem gambling can be impossible to detect.
“A lot of people don’t know what constitutes gambling or even problem gambling,” he says. “We usually associate gambling with table games, sports, or horses, but we don’t think about the lottery or scratch-offs. We need to educate people on what constitutes gambling and how to recognize the problem signs.”
Brian said counselors and recovery coaches should have honest discussions with clients about the potential for problem gambling and realize how difficult it can be for clients to control themselves. As an example, Brian says he notices how many clients who are waiting to get into a clinic have a handful of scratch-off tickets. That, he says, is a good opportunity to identify a potential problem.
“Staff needs to be continually asking questions and having these difficult conversations,” he said. Staff can ask leading questions such as:
- Have you done any scratch-offs this week?
- Have you gambled in the past?
- Do you plan to gamble in the future?
Alexandria Ranciato of RNP’s 28 day residential program, Horizons, is another one of RNP’s leaders in disordered gambling. She said the proliferation of online gambling and associated advertising is having a negative impact on many people prone to disordered gambling. She said she has seen clients with $200 worth of scratch-off tickets. College students, she said, are maxing out their credit cards and lying about their debt.
“It’s advertised everywhere you go. It’s constantly on TV and radio,” she says. “They want you to gamble, but they don’t want to offer sufficient resources and education to people who have a problem. There are resources, but not enough. Gambling is growing, but we’ll keep going until there is more treatment available.”
Alexandria and Brian noted that many people who have stopped drinking or using drugs find themselves with extra cash and pick up gambling as an addiction.
“They start gambling to fill a void,” Brian says. ” It’s an unhealthy substitution. It’s legal and socially acceptable to gamble. But it can also lead to personal and professional problems.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with problem gambling, call Brian Morris at 203-583-8181 ext. 665 for more information.