Few problem gamblers get help despite concernA study conducted by the Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance shows that 86 percent of Minnesotans believe that problem gambling is an issue in the state, yet less than one-third of the state’s residents are aware of state-funded treatment options.
By: Tom Olsen, Duluth Budgeteer News
A study conducted by the Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance shows that 86 percent of Minnesotans believe that problem gambling is an issue in the state, yet less than one-third of the state’s residents are aware of state-funded treatment options.
That lack of awareness is a major hindrance to treating gambling addiction, according to state and local addiction treatment counselors.
“Compulsive gambling is a problem that needs treatment and the support of professionals, and those services are offered here in Duluth,” said Paige Salyards, the program director for gambling at the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Duluth, an affiliate of the Northstar Alliance. “People don’t realize there’s help out there for compulsive gambling. They think it’s a financial issue.”
In an effort to raise awareness of treatment options, the Northstar Alliance and the Minnesota State Lottery are once again observing National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, March 3-9. This year’s awareness week, the 11th year of the program, will emphasize that gambling addiction can affect anyone in the community.
“That’s an addiction that’s not commonly talked about or identified,” Salyards said. “People are just not aware that their friends or loved ones have compulsive gambling problems until their finances become so dire that their homes are being foreclosed on and their cars are being repossessed.”
Cathie Perrault, the executive director of the Northstar Alliance, which is the Minnesota affiliate of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said that there’s a stigma attached to problem gambling that also prevents gamblers from seeking help.
“There’s a great deal of shame in this condition,” she said. “But we want people not to be ashamed of this issue. It’s just not talked about. Alcoholism is way more accepted in our world. People are working hard to move (gambling) in that direction. It’s just not as understood, and we want people to recognize that it can be a powerful addition.”
The Northstar Alliance estimates that 160,000 to 214,000 Minnesotans — or about one in 30 residents — struggle with problem gambling. Salyards said she believes Duluth is probably on par with the rest of the state, although she conceded that it is difficult to actually pinpoint the number of people struggling with gambling addictions.
A major component of the Northstar Alliance’s awareness week plans is to highlight the statewide 24/7 helpline and state-funded treatment options. According to the organization, just 906 Minnesotans utilized the line during the 2011-12 fiscal year, and that’s something officials hope to change.
“Stats from the problem gambling hotline show that not a lot of people are requesting help,” Perrault said. “Most people are aware of someone who has experienced problem gambling, so we’re trying to look at those numbers and see what else we can do.”
Minnesota residents can call the helpline at 1-800-333-4673 to get help for themselves or friends or family members. Counselors on the line can refer problem gamblers to local education and treatment resources.
Resources are available in the state at little to no cost thanks to state-funded programs. The Minnesota State Lottery is required by law to set aside a portion of its revenue for treatment programs. Other gambling entities such as tribal groups that operate casinos also contribute funds.
“The majority of funding has come out of the gambling industry,” Perrault said. “This is significantly different than the alcohol and drug industries. But the way that gambling has evolved, the only sources of funding have been from gambling entities themselves.”
Getting compulsive gamblers into treatment is the hard part, Salyards said. But once they seek help, the treatment has high success rates, she said.
“People don’t understand that there are treatment options, and treatment works,” she said. “It’s such a hidden addiction and it’s hard to determine because gambling itself isn’t the problem. We have so many forms of gambling that we all do anyways — church bingo or raffle tickets. There are so many different ways that we engage in some form of gambling that it’s hard for people to notice when people go outside normal parameters.”
For more information on problem gambling treatment in Duluth and Minnesota, visit cadt.org or northstarproblemgambling.org.