December 16, 2004

SIUC initiative begins in January Treatment program will help problem gamblers

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - Southern Illinois University Carbondale researchers who study the psychology of gambling will soon offer a treatment program for problem gamblers.

Statistics show that 3 percent of the country's population are pathological, or problem gamblers - - a sharp rise from one percent nationally just 20 years ago. According to Mark R. Dixon, associate professor and coordinator of the SIUC Rehabilitation Institute's Behavior Analysis and Therapy program, the treatment program will address the gambling addiction and explore the reasons clients started to gamble.

The eight-week program will also examine the role alcohol and drugs play in gambling addiction.

Professor John J. Benshoff, who coordinates the University's nationally recognized Rehabilitation Counselor Training Program, said that in addition to offering much-needed help, the eight, one-hour therapy sessions open up new research avenues for the Institute.

"It will provide fresh research data to understand why people get into trouble with gambling, and it is going to provide very specific resources simply not available in Southern Illinois in terms of providing treatment for this population," he said.

The free program will begin in early January and there is no limit on the number of clients. For more information or for an intake and screening assessment, contact the Rehabilitation Institute at 618/536-7704.

Dixon has been conducting various gambling-related research for 10 years and is an "emerging expert in the field of gambling addiction," Benshoff said.

The program will focus on getting participants to realize they have a problem. Dixon believes clients will offer different reasons for their gambling problem, and those reasons will dictate the type of treatment offered.

However, the treatment program will not put clients in the position of believing that they are failures if they continue to gamble.

"Rather, it's a lifelong process of dealing with it and also trying to gradually reduce rather than just stop cold-turkey, continue to fail, and have those kinds of ramifications that go along with repeated failures," Dixon said.

Opportunities to gamble continue to increase. Benshoff noted he recently found four early morning television shows, airing simultaneously, devoted to playing Texas Hold'em poker.

Dixon noted the following statistics related to gambling:

  • National losses from gambling have increased 4,200 percent in 30 years.
  • The gambling industry, including state lotteries and Las Vegas casinos, annually brings in more money than the combined revenues of the recording and movie industries, theme parks, professional sports and cruise ship industry.
  • Only two states offered legalized gambling 20 years ago. Today, all but two states, Hawaii and Utah, allow legalized gambling. And online gambling is legal in all 50 states.
  • Research, including studies done at SIUC, continues to show that members of lower socio-economic groups tend to spend more disposable income on smaller and more immediate economic opportunities such as gambling.

Pathological gamblers - - those who neglect life responsibilities including family, work and other social activities to focus on gambling - - are more likely to attempt suicide than drug addicts, Dixon said.

Behavioral issues involving gambling, alcohol and drugs are very similar, Benshoff said. People who report significant gambling disorder issues also report significant disorder issues involving drugs and alcohol, he said. Alcohol causes people to make faulty judgments, and there is a clear relationship between the likelihood of gambling and drinking, Benshoff said.

"We know from some of the literature already that people who tend to get into trouble with gambling behaviors also have substance abusing behaviors that get them into trouble also," he said.

Part of the research will focus on how substance abuse and gambling problems co-exist, Benshoff said. People are often identified and treated specifically for drug and alcohol problems and gambling problems are not addressed. This project will help identify the occurrence of gambling problems "that help us develop treatment strategies for gambling problems," he said.

There is also a higher proportion of potential problem gamblers on college campuses than in the general population, Dixon said. A recent survey of SIUC students at the Student Center showed more than 3 percent of students surveyed would score high enough to possibly warrant treatment, he said.

Five graduate students in Rehabilitation Counselor Training and Behavior Analysis and Therapy programs will serve as therapists and intake coordinators in the treatment program. Most already have some experience either as service providers in drug and alcohol work or have done a great deal of research into gambling disorders, Benshoff said.

Mairi A. McAllister, a second-year graduate student in Behavior Analysis and Therapy, looks forward to using techniques proven effective by scientific methods and research as part of the therapy. That includes working with clients on problem solving and social skills and, if needed, communication skills.

"We are going to pinpoint on why they gamble and then work on fixing those things in their lives. That is pretty exciting," said McAllister, who is from Salt Lake City.

Ashton J. Robinson, also a second-year graduate student in Behavior Analysis and Therapy, said there is a lack of treatment programs in Southern Illinois for pathological gamblers.

"I feel like we are going to be doing some good for the community," said Robinson, who is from Eau Claire, Wis.

Jennifer A. Delaney, a second-year graduate student in Behavior Analysis and Therapy from Detroit, is conducting research now on recreational video poker and how players determine whether to choose their own cards or let computers make the selections. Those research results could assist with the treatment program and add to existing treatment literature, she said.

Benshoff anticipates clients will initially come from Southern Illinois, but he also expects referrals from throughout Illinois due to the high number of Rehabilitation Institute program graduates statewide. Dixon and Benshoff are interested to see how the program works in a largely rural, economically depressed area.

Dixon expects to see some initial research results at the end of the eight-week treatment program, and at three- and six-month intervals.

"It's going to be interesting because we know there is a problem out there.

I am suspecting we will become a widely used resource," Benshoff said.

He also sees building the drug, alcohol and gambling components into the start of a Center for Addiction Studies.

Offering progressive graduate education and pursing opportunities to address social and health issues are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

For more information about the program contact associate professor Mark R. Dixon at 618/536-7704 or professor John J. Benshoff at 618/453-8262.