Overcoming the Invisible Addiction of Problem Gambling
By the time I talk to Mainers who are experiencing gambling problems, they are usually desperate. They have lost money, relationships, and sometimes their home, job, or business. They are feeling hopeless. They want to stop gambling, and they’ve tried many times. They think they are weak and have no self-control. They don’t think anyone will understand. Problem gambling is called the “invisible addiction” for a good reason. You can’t see the signs until a lot of harm has been done.
Many people are unaware that gambling can become an addiction just like substances can, much less that there are services in Maine to help those impacted by gambling problems. Sadly, only a small percentage of people who experience gambling problems will seek help. They will continue to struggle, and their loved ones will also pay the price.
Data from the 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey indicates that 1.14 percent of Maine adults report that the money or time spent gambling has caused problems in their lives. This translates to thousands of Mainers experiencing gambling problems, which means their gambling is negatively impacting work, school or other activities, mental or physical health, finances, reputation, or relationships with family or friends. For each person with a gambling problem, many other individuals in their lives are also impacted.
It’s important to know that Maine has services and resources for problem gambling, and how to find them. The key point, which is easy to remember, is that 211 Maine serves as Maine’s Problem Gambling Helpline. If you are concerned about your gambling or the gambling of a loved one, 211 Maine employs live specialists who are available 24/7 with information about resources and services. Dial 211, text your zip code to 898-211, or visit 211Maine.org.
Maine has counselors and social workers who can provide counseling for individuals who have gambling problems and their family members, and counseling can be provided at no cost if the person cannot afford to pay. Most of the counselors can provide their services statewide via telehealth. The list of providers can also be accessed via 211 Maine.
Self-Exclusion is a tool many people use to help them avoid gambling. It involves filling out a form to prevent yourself from gambling. Right now, the Maine statewide self-exclusion list covers all casinos in Maine. A person can self-exclude for one, three, or five years, or for a lifetime. You can complete the form with trained staff at multiple community sites in Maine. You can also self-exclude with an online meeting in the comfort of your home. For more information, visit adcareme.org/problem-gambling/ (Note: When sports wagering becomes operational in Maine, there will be the opportunity for individuals to request to be excluded from those operators.
The AdCare website will have further details as they become available.
Meetings are one of the most recognized ways to help people seeking recovery from gambling problems. You can call the New England Intergroup of Gamblers Anonymous Hotline at (888) 8302271. The hotline is manned 24 hours a day by New England GA members in recovery. It is helpful to call the hotline even if there isn’t a live meeting in your area because the person in recovery can talk to you about other options. Though there aren’t many in-person GA meetings in Maine, you can participate in any virtual (Zoom or phone) meeting offered in any state.
Gamblers, Family and Friends in Recovery is a website to find virtual meetings and support 24/7/365. The list of meetings can be overwhelming, but I’ve been told that the Florida Daily is a good one that takes place every day. Learn more at gamblersinrecovery.com
Gam-Anon is a resource for loved ones who are impacted by problem gambling. Learn more at gam-anon.org.
As part of my job, I keep an up-to-date list of resources that can be helpful to people in Maine, and most can be accessed at no cost. For example, podcasts are a popular way to get information and inspiration any time by listening to people in recovery talk about problem gambling stories and topics anytime on your device. Here’s a partial list:
• All In: The Addicted Gambler’s Podcast
• The Broke Girl Society
• After Gambling Podcast
• All Bets Are Off Podcast
• Fall In: the Problem Gambling
• Podcast for Military Service Members and Veterans
The full list of resources also includes free, downloadable booklets, private social media groups, screening tools, and additional options for meetings. It can be accessed at /adcareme.org/ problem-gambling/
As a final thought, AdCare can provide a personalized Problem Gambling 101 training for any group in Maine at no cost. Parent groups, employers, colleges, medical practices, etc. are encouraged to host a session to help increase awareness about key issues related to problem gambling.
We can all play a role in reducing the harm of the “invisible addiction” for Maine people, families, and communities.