Author: Stephanie Loder
A $100,000 state grant obtained by the John Brooks Recovery Center aims to aid anyone in Atlantic County suffering from disordered gambling.
The recovery center is the only organization in Atlantic County awarded the grant in 2021 from the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and one of just 10 organizations statewide.
“To start the program, we have more than 1,000 clients we are assessing for gambling disorders as well as new clients,” said Ken Litwak, the Executive Director of Gambling Education and Community Relations at John Brooks Recovery Center.
In January, Litwak said the recovery center added a Gambling Treatment Program to help people with disordered gambling.
Litwak mentioned how disordered gambling is considered a “hidden addiction.”
“It’s the hidden addiction because you can’t test for it,” Litwak said of disordered gambling. “There are visible signs if someone is doing drugs. You see track marks on their arms or other visible signs.”
Treating Disordered Gambling In NJ
People accept gambling and some use gambling words every day.
“They use the word ‘bet’ every day in simple conversation to say, ‘I bet you can’t do this’ or ‘I bet that light turns red before I reach it’,” Litwak said.
He stated 40% of the people diagnosed with disordered gambling also have an alcohol disorder and up to 60% to 90% diagnosed also smoke tobacco.
Litwak, who grew up in Egg Harbor Township, worked at the compulsive gambling hotline 800 Gambler for four years and one year at John Brooks. He said 800 Gambler also provides grant money for the recovery center.
The John Brooks center offers disordered gamblers individual counseling, group counseling, and psychoeducation counseling.
The grant will address disordered gambling in an organized fashion, Litwak said.
“We have to do a lot of education, but there is a lot of stigma because of the hidden nature,” Litwak explained.
He said the hidden nature of disordered gambling continues because people are ashamed. Litwak continued:
“A question I ask in public is how many people know a breast cancer survivor, and everyone raises their hand. Then I asked how many know a disordered gambler or have one in the family and no one raises their hand.”
“People know, gradually, that there is a (gambling) problem, but they don’t know how bad it is until the end. It’s hidden. And it is important to catch it while it is still a mild problem,” he said.
“We have to work on getting the word out and educating coworkers and screening for gambling disorders. We have to keep talking about it and be successful,” Litwak said.
Litwak became interested in treating disordered gambling when he saw the large dollar amounts of money people were losing.
“I wanted to find a grant that would help us treat people. I couldn’t understand why people were throwing away money,” he said.
Helping Disordered Gamblers
Litwak also reached out to 1-800 GAMBLER, a hotline for finding help for compulsive gambling, to be a part of funding the program. He partnered with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, which operates the hotline.
John Brooks Recovery Centers are listed for referrals on the 1-800-GAMBLER hotline.
“Through 1-800 GAMBLER, an ongoing grant allows us to treat anyone who calls the hotline. They are referred to John Brooks and the fee for service is covered under the grant from 1-800 GAMBLER,” Litwak said.
He discussed how one of the roles of 1-800 GAMBLER is to train management in responsible gaming. He also thinks partnering with a casino in Atlantic City would help.
“We have not partnered with any casinos, but we would love to partner with them,” Litwak said.
Disordered gamblers potentially work at a casino, or are the treasurer of an organization, yet go unnoticed, Litwak said. Each has access to money and the addiction, if not treated, could lead to embezzlement or misuse of money.
“Each has access to money,” Litwak said. “The casino dealer could try to cheat while at work and keep the money. The treasurer might find a way to skim funds from his organization’s account and use them for gambling.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, disordered gambling involves “repeated, problem gambling behavior.”
Usually, along with disordered gambling, there is another underlying addiction such as alcohol or drug abuse. Disordered gambling also creates problems for the individual, families, and society.
Adults and adolescents with gambling disorders have trouble controlling their gambling and continue to gamble despite the significant problems that they cause.
Litwak said there is an admission process for disordered gamblers seeking treatment.
“The clients who will be admitted into the program will have substance use disorders diagnosis and a co-occurring gambling disorder, which accounts for approximately 30% of cases,” Litwak said.
Address Disordered Gambling Early On
Disordered gambling has an independent risk factor for suicide, said Michael Santillo, Chief Executive Officer at John Brooks Recovery Center.
The gambling problem, in the current system of care, basically goes unaddressed and can potentially end in death, Santillo said.
“Gambling disorders can be devastating. In fact, the highest rate of suicide among any of the addictions is gambling,” said Santillo.
He recalled working alongside accountants and people in other high-level positions where they struggled with disordered gambling and went on to lose their jobs over embezzlement-related offenses.
“These folks wind up with nothing and a million dollars in debt,” Santillo said.
“Those who suffer from alcohol and heroin addiction can start over with a clean slate. The impact of gambling runs much deeper,” he said. “This is an addiction that can follow them for the rest of their lives.”
About the Author: Stephanie Loder