Gambling addiction is on the rise in Singapore, and it is negatively affecting families across the country.
According to the National Addiction Management Service (NAMS) gambling addiction is on the rise in Singapore. The number of people seeking gambling addiction treatment in Singapore at NAMS, the country’s largest addiction treatment centre, has doubled since 2010. While NAMS saw a 37% increase in the total number of addicts seeking help at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) since 2010, the sharpest increase was among those seeking help for gambling addiction.
Christopher Cheok, IMH vice-chairman of NAMS’ medical board, regards the increase as a positive sign that more people are willing to seek help for their addictions. The statistics reflect only the number of people who sought help, rather than the total number of people who are struggling with addiction, so it is hard to say whether there has indeed been an increase in cases of gambling addiction or only in the number of people seeking help.
However, in 2010 Singapore’s two casinos opened, which means there has been increased access to gambling since that time. Singapore is also the second biggest gambling nation in the world after Australia. It is entirely possible then, that there are more people gambling beyond their means and the sharp increase in those seeking help over the last four years accurately reflects an overall increase in the number of people struggling with a gambling problem.
In response to concerns about more people suffering from addiction, NAMS has attempted to increase accessibility to treatment by extending its services beyond the IMH. In August they partnered with Credit Counselling Singapore, a non-profit that helps people resolve debt problems, by providing a counsellor on site once a week to help intervene if a client’s debt problems are the result of a gambling addiction.
Still, many addicts are not getting the help they need either because they do not know that help is available, or they are in denial about their problem.
What is Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction can be particularly difficult to spot, however its effects can be just as devastating as an alcohol or drug addiction. It is a type of process addiction in which a person becomes addicted to the process of gambling or placing bets. Gambling triggers the same neural pathways in the brain as alcohol and other drugs, which gives the gambler intense feelings of excitement and pleasure as they place bets. For those who are predisposed to developing an addiction, they can quickly lose control of their gambling behaviour. Gambling repeatedly can also change the brain in a similar way that addictive substances can.
People suffering from a gambling addiction will continue to gamble despite the growing negative consequences of their behaviour. They may resort to breaking the law by stealing money or engaging in other fraudulent behaviour to support their gambling addiction. Unfortunately, some people do not seek help or admit that they have a problem until they experience legal consequences for their behaviour.
Contrary to popular belief, gambling addiction causes more than debt and financial problems. Even people who are wealthy enough to support their gambling losses will experience other negative emotional, physical, and social consequences due to their addiction.
How Gambling Addiction Affects Families
There is more at stake than personal problems due to gambling. In Australia, the actions of one problem gambler negatively impact the lives of five to ten other people. The following are negative effects that families of problem gamblers might experience:
Emotional problems and isolation.
Family members of a problem gambler may feel a strong sense of shame about their loved one’s behaviour. Shame and guilt can lead to social isolation as families try to hide the problem, which over time makes it even more difficult to reach out for help and support.
Physical and mental health problems.
Gambling problems cause significant stress within families, and this stress can lead to other physical and mental health problems for both the gambler and those who love him or her. These problems can include depression, anxiety, poor sleep, ulcers, headaches, and bowel disorders.
Addiction of any kind is a family disease which can lead to family members of the addict taking on roles of codependency. Family members may try to keep things in control and neglect their own needs while caring for the addict which can lead to stress and burnout.
Effects on children.
Children of problem gamblers may experience physical or emotional neglect, which can lead to anger, depression, and anxiety. They may also take on co-dependent roles that enable the problem behaviour, such as acting out as a way to get attention, which in turn diverts attention away from the gambling parent. Children of problem gamblers are also at increased risk of developing a gambling problem themselves.
Problem gamblers will often go to extreme lengths to hide their debt from the rest of the family. Learning about the loss of savings, property, or belongings due to a gambling problem can tear families apart. The financial stress can also make it difficult for families to provide basic needs for themselves.
Getting Gambling Addiction Treatment
When it comes to treatment for gambling addiction Singapore has some options. Without treatment, gambling addiction will continue to progress and eventually cause glaring and unavoidable problems within a person’s life. As mentioned above, Singapore’s NAMS has tried to expand its reach of treatment by offering services within Credit Counselling Singapore. They also offer addiction treatment services at the IMH office.
There is also private and confidential help available at The Cabin Singapore, an effective outpatient addiction treatment programme that specialises in treating both process and substance addictions. The Cabin Singapore is part of Asia’s leading addiction services group and provides effective addiction treatment by experienced addiction counsellors.
Because gambling addiction so often affects family relationships, The Cabin Singapore also offers and recommends their family treatment programme, which will help the whole family unit recover together. Treatment will help gamblers and their families understand addiction, develop new and effective coping skills, and learn how to prevent future relapses.