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Gambling: Counseling has big payoffs

Gambling addiction can leave a person’s life in shambles, but there is a road to recovery.

Both nationally and locally, there are support groups, treatment options and assessment tools to help people get through gambling problems, and keep them away from gambling.

The first step, though, is finding out if a person is a problem gambler and then stopping the behavior, said Mike Prutsman, director of prevention for the Cattaraugus County Council on Alcoholism and Abuse.

“There are certain risk factors that are predictors of problem behavior,” he said.

These include spending more and more on gambling and developing family problems, among others, he added.

One of the first steps to recovery may be one-to-one counseling, which is offered by the council.

That’s more like an intervention,” Mr. Prutsman said. “That’s not treatment.”

Actual treatment could require anything from enrollment in support groups like Gamblers Anonymous to actual medication, according to In Focus, a series of publications about addiction.

Finding the problem

One of the first steps of treating a person’s gambling addiction is understanding it. Several factors are typical causes of pathological gambling – the most serious classification of problem gambling – according to In Focus.

These include brain chemistry causing a lack of impulse control. People who suffer from this type of problem often require more intense stimulation to feel reward, meaning gambling will increase with the need for a bigger thrill.

About 75 percent of pathological gamblers also have another emotional illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Nearly 60 percent had a family member with a gambling problem, and half were addicted to alcohol or drugs as well.

Once the gambler has entered treatment, there are steps friends and family must take to aid that person, according to In Focus.

Once the gambler has entered treatment, there are steps friends and family must take to aid that person, according to In Focus.

If married, the spouse should take control of all assets that could be a source of money, including bank accounts, credit cards, insurance policies and investments. The family should also find a financial planner to help deal with the monetary mess left behind by a gambling problem. Friends and extended family should be discouraged from loaning the gambler money.

Keeping away

There are plenty of places to find gambling both legal and illegal in the Twin Tiers, but the presence of a major casino in the region may be irresistible to an addicted gambler.

Because of this risk, the Seneca-Allegany Casino in Salamanca keeps several precautions in place to keep problem gamblers away.

The first thing available is brochures for local treatment options located throughout the casino area.

“We have brochures at all of our promotions booths and at the (money exchanging) cage for the New York State Council on Problem Gambling,” said Phil Pantano, spokesman for the Seneca Gaming Corporation.

The casino also enforces both voluntary and involuntary “exclusion policies” that ban a person from the casino floor, Mr. Pantano said.

“If someone thinks that they have a problem or need a break, they can contact our regulatory personnel and they can exclude themselves from the casino,” he said. “Basically, they don’t let you back in here, and that exclusion is for a minimum of one year.”

The casino will also enforce bans on people they believe to be problem gamblers. Both voluntary and involuntary exclusions must be reviewed by a panel after an application to return, Mr. Pantano said.

“If they’re caught trying to come into the casino, they could also be charged with trespassing,” he said. “We take it very seriously.”

If the problem is Internet gambling, there are several software programs – most intended for parents keeping children away from certain Web sites – that will block problem sites for the gambler. The password should be kept secret by someone other than the addicted gambler.

Getting help

Locally, the Cattaraugus County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse offers treatment programs at its Salamanca and Olean locations.

“Everything is held in confidentiality,” Mr. Prutsman said.

Several Internet resources are also available for gambling addicts and their families.

At GamblersAnonymous.org, people with gambling problems can look for support groups. Their families can find support groups at Gam-Anon.org, where resources are also available for Gama-Teen, a program for adolescent gambling addicts.

The National Council on Problem Gambling Web site, NCPGambling.org, offers self-assessment tools to determine if someone is a problem gambler or not.

Whether therapy or medication is needed is the decision of counselors and doctors.
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source: Olean Times Herald, http://www.oleantimesherald.com

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