Sheryl Anderson

northstar_Sheryl-AndersonCounselor’s Corner is a recurring feature that discusses common questions raised by counselors seeking to learn more about problem gambling and how they can identify a possible gambling addiction in their clients. Sheryl Anderson, nationally certified gambling counselor coordinator at the Vanguard Center for Compulsive Gambling, addresses this column’s question.

Q: As one who works in a helping profession, what tangential issues should I consider when determining if a gambling issue may be at the root of my patient’s problem?

A: Given the percentage of U.S. adults who have gambled in the last year along with the $95 billion in gaming revenue generated by casinos, tracks and state lotteries, we know that a lot of Americans gamble. It’s estimated that about 1.5 million Americans have experienced disordered gambling at some point in their lifetime. The condition often goes untreated because behavioral and other health care providers are unaware that some of the people they are serving might also be struggling with an addiction to gambling.
People in helping professions are encouraged to have the conversation with individuals that might be seeking help due to:

  • Relationship issues
  • Legal issues
  • Financial issues
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Other mental health disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts

Often, the person seeking help is the family member or concerned other of the person with a serious gambling problem.

As can be expected, someone who suffers from disordered gambling might experience financial difficulties. Providers working with individuals who have financial difficulties, such as a history of bankruptcy, unpaid bills, etc., should start a conversation that includes asking about patterns of gambling.

In addition to not being able to have funds for household expenses, individuals who experience disordered gambling might also have other serious health conditions. The stress of the addiction might exacerbate a pre-existing condition or bring on other health problems. Those suffering from disordered gambling frequently are unable to afford prescribed medications and may not continue with wellness visits to primary health care providers. They may be more likely to access emergency services and present to doctors and other health care providers with a variety of acute, stress-related issues.

Initiating a conversation about gambling in a matter-of-fact and non-judgmental way can be a life-saving strategy as disordered gambling is associated with suicide, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Individuals who are experiencing substance use disorders, as well as anxiety or depression, are at greater risk of attempting suicide.

If you suspect your client may have a gambling problem, there are several screening tools available to assess or diagnose gambling problems. Some of the most convenient screening instruments for medical and behavioral health care providers to use are the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen and the Lie/Bet Screen Instrument. Each of these screens can be found on NorthstarProblemGambling.org under “Resources for Professionals.”