NCRG Conference: What Does It Mean To Be Recovered From A Gambling Disorder?

On the first day of the 13th annual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction, a session of three notable researchers and clinicians took a close look at the issues surrounding treatment and recovery from a gambling disorder.

Lia Nower, Ph.D., J.D., associate professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, began the session by discussing some of the difficulties associated with measuring recovery from pathological gambling. For example, the standard definition of a gambling disorder requires a cluster of symptoms but not a time frame. For example, a person who experiences three symptoms in the same weekend and a person who experiences three symptoms in their life are categorized in the same way. Another issue in defining a gambling disorder is that gambling “consumption” is not as easily classifiable as substances, such as alcohol, that can be standardized by weight or volume. While there are several ways that gambling researchers try to define consumption there is no easily understood standard as with other substance use disorders.

Next, Jody Bechtold, LCSW, NCGC-II, a nationally recognized gambling counselor, discussed recovery from a clinical perspective, noting that for clinicians, it is very hard to answer the question of what it means to be fully recovered. She explained that recovery may look different depending on the severity of the gambling disorder. For some pathological gamblers, complete abstinence from gambling behaviors may be the best way to prevent relapse. However, for problem gamblers, recovery could be defined either as abstinence or controlled gambling, but maybe changing the game or other factors. Counselors should take a multidisciplinary treatment approach with a goal to achieve better than pre-crisis states of well-being. She concluded by offering a definition of recovery: being accountable and responsible in all major life areas on a regular and consistent basis.

Finally, Harold Wynne, Ph.D., head of Wynne Resources, ended the session discussing several screening and diagnostic issues, including:

  • Issue 1: We are not really sure what pathological gambling is: a disease, a social problem or a social disease.
  • Issue 2: If we are not really sure what pathological gambling is, how can we screen for and diagnose the condition?
  • Issue 3: We tend to treat the symptoms and not the “pathological gambling disease.”
  • Issue 4: We tend to define pathological gambling recovery as being free some symptoms.
  • Issue 5: Recovery should be redefined as improvement in the overall health of the individual – not just the absence of pathological gambling symptoms.

What do you think it means to be recovered from a gambling disorder? Share your thoughts in the comments below. For more recap posts from the NCRG Conference, make sure to stay tuned to Gambling Disorders 360˚.

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