March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM) and we want to spend some time discussing the importance of problem gambling prevention. Prevention is an important piece in helping to keep communities safe from problem gambling. It is important to prevent gambling from becoming problem gambling, to prevent problems from getting worse during treatment and to prevent relapse while in recovery from gambling addiction. Prevention is the component that connects all steps along the way to keeping our community safe from problem gambling.
What is Problem Gambling?
Problem gambling refers to any time gambling causes problems in someone’s life. Those problems can be related to relationships, employment and their mental health. People experiencing problems from gambling may have troubled marriages, struggling relationships with their children and other people in their family. They may have difficulty focusing on work and may be getting in trouble due to their gambling. They may start getting down on themselves experiencing anxiety, depression and perhaps thoughts of suicide.
Preventing Problem Gambling
Preventing problem gambling is a huge undertaking. We can break it down into manageable pieces. Prevention starts with how we talk about gambling. This includes being honest about the odds of winning, and the number of people that are losing money gambling. We need to let people know that most people lose money when they gamble. They need to know that gambling needs to be seen as a form of entertainment and not as a source of income. We need to get this message out in PSA’s, emails, social media messaging and in our conversations every day. This article will focus on discussing prevention of problem gambling by talking about it throughout the community.
Talk About Problem Gambling
Talking about problem gambling is the first step. We need to discuss gambling issues with our family members, our friends and our colleagues. We need to ask questions about peoples gambling behaviors. We need to show care and concern as we reach out to loved ones asking questions to learn if gambling is entertainment or if it is causing problems in their life.
We need to have these conversations with our friends. We need to let our friends know that we care. We need to ask questions about their gambling behavior and let them know where they can find help, should they be experiencing problems.
We need to have these conversations in our places of work. This means discussing any policies pertaining to gambling. This means offering trigger-free safe zones so individuals in recovery can feel safe. And this means talking to our colleagues and, again, starting a conversation with care and concern.
Starting these conversations is simple. It’s as simple as saying, “Hello. How are you?” If they mention that they’ve been gambling, ask questions like, “how did that go?” or, “how did you feel when you were done?” or, “are you still thinking about your losses?” These questions can open the door to what’s going on in someone’s life regarding their gambling behavior. These questions can be easily infused into regular conversation.
During any conversation with someone we care about, we ask questions. We ask how they’re doing. We ask questions about their friends, their family, their job, their interests and anything else that’s important to the individual that we care about. We ask deeper questions to learn more because we care. If we can ask all those other questions, we can very well ask questions about their gambling behavior.
Prevention During Treatment
Strategies to stay safe is another piece of preventing problem gambling. Prevention of problem gambling is vital to the treatment process. Someone who is in treatment for problem gambling needs to know how to prevent themselves from doing anything that would hurt their treatment. Therefore, it is important for treatment providers to be aware of strategies to help individuals learn how to keep themselves safe. Some resources for strategies include Voluntary Self-Exclusion and KnowTheOdds.org.
Voluntary Self-Exclusion is a great way for individuals to create a barrier between themselves and their triggers, or their urges, to go gamble. Voluntary self-exclusion allows people to take a stand against their own urges by creating a barrier to block themselves from gambling during their treatment.
KnowTheOdds.org is an educational website (you’re currently on) that is filled with resources about problem gambling. These resources are here to help individuals struggling with, or loved ones negatively affected by, problem gambling. Feel free to check out the videos, infographics, eBooks and blog posts to learn more and obtain strategies to prevent the urge and triggers to gambling.
Prevention During Recovery
A third piece of prevention is community, which is important during recovery. Recovery is not always easy and is a lifelong journey. Recovery refers to individuals and families building a life that is what they want and not a life that is tied to an addiction like gambling. Therefore, people in recovery are looking to avoid a relapse. An important strategy to avoid relapse is a supportive community.
An individual’s community includes their family, friends and colleagues. These individuals need to surround themselves with a community that will support their recovery. They need people that are willing to learn and understand their needs. They need a community who will help plan events, or decide what events to go to, that will help support their recovery. They need a community of friends who understand their struggle. They need a community that shows care and concern.
To help build this community of support, we encourage individuals and families to reach out to their local Problem Gambling Resource Center (PGRC). The PGRCs across New York State are connected to all different types of help. When someone calls their local PGRC for help, they’re connected to professionals who know individual clinicians in local areas, they know where the treatment centers are, they can identify local Gamblers Anonymous or GamAnon meetings, they can connect individuals with recovery centers and they help build a relationship that helps people who are struggling to have a safe, hopeful community to lean on.
Prevention for the Family
Many times, when someone reaches out for help due to a gambling addiction, it’s a family member or loved one. There are many things that family members can do to start taking action to help someone who is struggling with a gambling problem. There are a ton of resources available on the KnowTheOdds.org website to help our communities learn more about problem gambling.
There’s a Self-Screening Tool now available on the PGRC website. The screener offers individuals, or families and loved ones, the opportunity to see what level of risk their gambling has of being a problem. It’s a great way to get an idea of how severe someone’s gambling has become and learn if it’s causing problems in their life.
As mentioned before, local PGRCs are available across New York state. These resource centers are there to connect people to the information and resources that they want. Individuals who call will not be pushed in any way towards any type of resource or service. Every conversation is treated with care and concern; the care and concern that PGRC professionals would want offered to someone they love. Every phone call is met with a live caring, trained individual who will be able to answer that call. Callers will receive encouragement and connection to the resources or services that they are looking for to best suit their needs and their recovery journey.
Finally, the best way for families to prepare to take action to help someone struggling with a gambling problem is simply to educate themselves. Loved ones should aim to engross themselves with information. They’ll understand more of what they’re dealing with, and what steps they can take to help the individual they love in a way that will hopefully inspire that individual to look at their gambling behavior and, perhaps, get help.