Don’t Let Problem Gambling Remain Hidden During National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week 

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Don’t Let Problem Gambling Remain Hidden During National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week 

March 18th to the 24th is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week in 2024. It is an opportunity to shine the light on the science of drug use and addiction among youth and adults, and its relationship, as well as similarities and differences, with problem gambling. 

Disordered gambling should always be included in the discussion about drugs and alcohol abuse. It is not uncommon for those at-risk or already suffering from problem gambling to also be struggling with drug or alcohol difficulties, given the high rate of co-morbidity within this population. Individuals may also substitute one addiction for another, such as stopping drinking only to start gambling more or vice versa. Studies over the years have indicated that 50% or more of the problem gambling population has or have had drug or alcohol problems!

While there are many similarities between problem gambling and substance abuse, there are also important differences that have made compulsive gambling more difficult to identify and to treat. Known as the hidden addiction due to its lack of physical symptoms, one cannot pick up on disordered gambling by checking for “dice eyes”, “roulette breath”, or “card marks” on the arms.

Consider the other side of this. Somebody who is showing physical signs of alcoholism or drug abuse may also have a gambling problem, and it may even be at the root of the substance abuse. However… 

  • To the wife trying to understand why her husband isn’t home… 
  • To the counselor working on the individual’s treatment plan… 
  • To the employer wondering what has happened to their top performer…
  • To the police officer making the DUI arrest… 
  • And even to the judge determining the sentence… 

The gambling problem can remain hidden!

We know that based on research there is a correlation between higher gambling risk, while simultaneously using drugs or alcohol. You may hear this referred to as dual diagnosis, comorbidity, or co-occurring addictions. Many adults report while in treatment or when they contact the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine that they started using drugs and alcohol when young and then began gambling. There are some that have been in recovery for many years from drugs and alcohol who didn’t even realize that gambling could become an addiction for them, too. Some report they drink or smoke more while gambling. The underlying reactions that are triggered in the brain when someone consumes alcohol are very similar to when someone gambles. In fact, the brain will release dopamine after someone gambles, the same process that happens in addictive drugs. The way these two reactions can stack on each other, along with the accessibility of alcohol in gambling establishments, makes the potential of alcoholism and gambling addiction as co-occurring disorders even more likely.[1

Addiction is any chronic, habitual behavior that interferes with one’s ability to function normally. The following characteristics of addiction can refer to any self-destructive behaviors, such as compulsive gambling, overeating, sex addiction, drug abuse, alcoholism, uncontrolled spending, smoking, and sugar/caffeine abuse and dependency. 

  • Relying on the activity to provide pleasure or relief from stress and pain. 
  • Continuing the activity despite adverse consequences. 
  • Experiencing withdrawal – individual feels worse when he/she stops. 
  • Denying, rationalizing, and minimizing consequences. 
  • Losing control over the activity. 
  • Failed attempts to stop or control abuse. 
  • Experiencing tolerance – individual needs more to get the same high (such as larger bets for gambling). 
  • No longer enjoying the activity but continuing just to feel “normal.” 
  • Preoccupation. 
  • Cravings. 
  • Tendency to relapse. 
  • The severity of symptoms is progressive and gets worse over time. 
  • Individual centers his/her life around the activity.[2]

Taking those into consideration, here are the differences that set disordered gambling apart from substance abuse and other addictions. In addition to all of the above, individuals suffering from problem gambling: 

  • Are triggered by money, which is the drug that fuels gambling addiction, leading to pronounced financial difficulties for the individual and any dependents.
  • Show no outward physical symptoms and can function normally at work or in other social situations. 
  • Can’t overdose, and there is no saturation point. The body will not shut down from too much gambling, like it does with alcohol and drugs. 
  • Don’t need to ingest anything, and don’t need to go anywhere or speak with anyone to gamble (online/mobile gambling). 
  • Are discouraged from seeking treatment because of persistent social stigmas. 

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month 

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM). By educating the general population and key professionals about gambling disorder, its signs and symptoms, and the help and hope available through the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine, we can make a difference in the lives of those suffering from this hidden addiction. Learn more here about the FCCG’s PGAM campaign for 2024.

March 12th is National Gambling Disorder Screening Day 

A big part of the PGAM campaign each year is National Gambling Disorder Screening Day, which this year falls on March 12th. Screening Day is an annual, one-day event intended to educate and support providers in screening for Gambling Disorder. Screening helps to identify individuals who should seek further assessment for potential gambling-related problems. It does not provide a diagnosis.

Client-facing organizations, community groups, other organizations, and individuals can participate in this event by screening their patients/clients for Gambling Disorder on Screening Day. We refer to this as ‘hosting’ a Screening Day event and these participants are called ‘Screeners.’ Anyone can host. This grassroots event is open to everyone interested. You do not need to be a gambling-specific organization to screen. Learn more here. 

888-ADMIT-IT Also Offers Problem Gambling Prevention and Education Resources for Professionals 

It all starts with prevention and having the open conversation about drugs, alcohol, and problem gambling with your children, your family members, and friends. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2020 shows that 57 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 did not think there was great harm in having five or more drinks once or twice a week. As many as 62.6 percent of those in that age group did not think it was very harmful to smoke marijuana once or twice a week.[3] Despite the legal gambling age of 18, Florida prevalence research revealed lifetime participation in gambling was almost 70% among Florida residents, ages 13 to 17. Additionally, the study found that over 40% of adolescents reported gambling in the past year and 11.5% identified as weekly gamblers. Adolescent problem gamblers were also found to have much higher rates of alcohol, drug, and tobacco use![4 ]

Did you know that the FCCG has developed problem gambling prevention and education resources for the following groups of professionals? Contact 888-ADMIT-IT to learn more! 

  • Youth Organizations and Service Providers: The FCCG has developed a series of comprehensive gambling prevention and intervention programs for youth and college-age students. The FCCG developed itsSmart Choicesprogram, which consists of two ready-to-use lesson plans, both of which promote healthy discussion, and includes worksheets with fun activities. In an effort to address the issues presenting with youth involving gambling, the FCCG has developed a comprehensive Problem Gambling Prevention Program for Middle and High School Students.Further, the FCCG has developed its college campus-wideStudents Advocating for Gambling Awareness (SAGA)program. Learn more about FCCG prevention programs. 

  • Treatment Providers: An important role of the FCCG is the continued training of treatment providers, mental health workers, clinical social workers, and marriage and family therapists throughout the state. This has been accomplished through webinars, online training modules, and outreach activities conducted to promote the FCCG’s programs and services to diverse audiences throughout the state of Florida. Learn more. 

  • Legal Professionals: FCCG training and programming provides guidance to law enforcement, probation and police officers, judges, and attorneys regarding problem gambling impacts and solutions. Excessive gambling places a hardship on our legal and prison systems given the frequency of theft, embezzlement, fraud, and other crimes committed. More often than not, police, probation and correction officers, as well as attorneys, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and the criminal justice system as a whole are not familiar with compulsive gambling and/or the impacts resulting from such a diagnosis that lead to crime. Learn more. 

  • Elder Service Providers and Senior Service Organizations: The FCCG has developed a variety of senior-specific programs and resources offering a comprehensive approach for diverse elder service providers in recognizing the signs of a gambling problem in the population served. FCCG senior programs address common situations that seniors encounter, identify age-appropriate solutions, and offer viable approaches to prevention, assessment, intervention, treatment, and outreach efforts. Learn more. 

  • Military and Veterans Service Providers: Recent research reveals that as many as 56,000 active duty members of the Armed Forces meet the criteria for gambling disorder, and studies have shown that veterans have elevated rates of gambling problems, at least twice the rate of the general adult population. The FCCG provides FREE services and supports to mental health professionals and others servicing this population. Learn more. 

[1] Alcohol Rehab Guide. Alcoholism And Gambling Addiction https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/resources/dual-diagnosis/alcoholism-and-gambling-addiction/ 
[2] Nichols, M. No-Dice Safety Net to Recovery. 2008 
[3] Coady Jeffery A. SAMSHA. Making Prevention a Priority During National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week. March 2022.  https://www.samhsa.gov/blog/making-prevention-priority-during-national-drugs-alcohol-facts-week 
[4] Shapira, N. A., Ferguson, M. A., Frost-Pineda, K., & Gold, M. S. (2002). Gambling and Problem Gambling Prevalence among Adolescents in Florida. 

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