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January 2, 2020 - 9:04am

Gambling getting out of control? GCASA has a treatment program that can help

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, GCASA.

Today’s society invites people to gamble.

Casinos are at every turn.

Lotteries are run by state governments.

Sports betting is a click of the mouse away.

Getting in on the horse-racing action is as easy as turning on the TV.

Bombarded by messages such as “a dollar and a dream,” it’s no wonder that, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, an estimated 2 million Americans are pathological gamblers and another 4 to 6 million people would be considered problem gamblers – those whose gambling affects their everyday lives.

In New York State, an Office of Addiction Services and Supports’ survey revealed that more than 700,000 adults struggle with a gambling problem. That’s 5 percent of the adult population.

“Just like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they (problem gamblers) can’t stop,” said Tony Alisankus, BS, CASAC II SAP, who oversees a problem gambling treatment at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. "It’s a disease that changes the neurochemistry of the brain; similar to cocaine, amphetamines or opioids.”

Also known as compulsive gambling or gambling disorder, gambling addiction is an impulse-control illness. A compulsive gambler can’t control the impulse to gamble, despite the negative consequences for that person or his or her family.

Alisankus called it “the hidden disease” because people don’t want to address it.

“And it’s not just slot machines, horses or card games,” he said. “The compulsion can show up in stock trading, lottery tickets and online gambling.

Gambling disorder (the current terminology per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is defined as persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.

Some of the signs of gambling disorder are as follows:

-- Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement;

-- Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling;

-- Often gambles when feeling distressed or anxious;

-- Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling;

-- Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

Gambling disorder can seriously affect a person’s personal well-being, employment situation and family life, Alisankus said. Fortunately, however, there is hope and help for the problem gambler.

“Like all addictions, gambling is a treatable disease,” said Alisankus, who has provided substance abuse counseling for more than 30 years and has recently attained certification in gambling disorders. “With treatment and follow-through, people can remain in remission.”

The program at GCASA offers various methods of evidence-based treatment, including Dialectal Behavior Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (skills-based therapies for patients to find a better way to think and cope) and Motivational Interviewing.

It also offers treatment for family members affected by the loved one’s disorder, referrals to Gambler’s Anonymous, GAMANON and not-for-profit credit/financial counseling.

Alisankus said the initial step for the problem gambler in either Genesee or Orleans County – or for someone who may be at risk of escalating his or her gambling activities – is to call GCASA at 585-343-1124 to set up an assessment appointment (those take place on Mondays at 4 p.m. in Batavia).

Should a potential patient have transportation issues or can’t meet at that time, procedures are in place for a special appointment to be made – either in Batavia or at the Albion clinic.

From there, Alisankus will use standardized criteria to assess the patient’s level of gambling disorder, which could vary from mild to moderate to severe to persistent to episodic.

The program at GCASA is free to all those seeking help.

Additional support is available through the Western Problem Gambling Resource Center in Buffalo, which has a working relationship with GCASA.

Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.

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