SPRINGFIELD – An estimated 2% of Illinois adults have a gambling problem, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. But it’s unclear which populations are most affected and at risk.
The Illinois Department of Human Services launched a new study last fall aimed at collecting data on the issue of gambling disorders in the state. The agency has also issued several new grants to organizations and treatment providers across the state — aimed at raising awareness and removing barriers to treatment for those with gambling disorders.
One of the recipients is Gateway Foundation, a Springfield-based addiction treatment center.
Teresa Garate, Gateway’s vice president of strategic partnerships and engagements, says the pandemic has caused many people in addiction recovery to relapse — and she suspects the same may be true for people with gambling disorders.
“The fact that you can now access gambling on your phone, especially sports betting… makes it very, very easy and very accessible to do, even when you’re at home,” Garate says. “And we’ve also seen, of course, more people with anxiety and depression and uncertainty about the future, because of COVID.”
Garate says barriers to treatment can include lack of awareness and understanding of the problem, insurance coverage and stigma.
“The fact that people don’t see it as an addiction makes it even harder for people to be self-aware and understand that they have a problem, that they need help,” she says. “There’s a lot of stigma related to this.”
Lina Xie, who leads the Midwest Asian Health Association’s substance abuse program, says anecdotal reports led her to the understanding that gambling “is an issue that many [community] members are concerned with.”
That’s what motivated MAHA to seek out state funding to launch a gambling awareness program and also participate in the statewide study on the issue.
In honor of March as Gambling Awareness Month, Gateway and MAHA will join The Way Back Inn and TASC-Illinois to host a free virtual speaker series on gambling disorders from March 29 to March 31.
The webinars will look at public health policies for addressing gambling disorders, the importance of ending stigma — and practical information on how to access treatment. More information can be found online.
Hear a longer interview with Garate and Xie on the issue of gambling disorders: