NCRG On The Road At The Midwest Conference On Problem Gambling And Substance Abuse

The “NCRG on the Road” blog series includes posts from NCRG staff members as they travel to continue the organization’s mission of funding the highest-quality research on gambling disorders and increasing public education opportunities. This post is from Amy Martin, the NCRG’s communications and outreach manager, about her recent trip to the Midwest Conference on Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse in Kansas City, Mo.

The NCRG’s staff and representatives have been collecting frequent flyer miles as we’ve traveled across the country, presenting at conferences and meeting with public health officials, gaming industry representatives, clinicians and business leaders. In previous posts, I talked about ourtrip to Denver, Colo., to tape themulti-media news releasefor, as well as our trip to Miami, Fla., for the sixthAnnual Education Summit. I packed my bags again for the opportunity to present at the Midwest Conference on Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse from June 6 – 8. Dr. Serena King, an associate professor at Hamline University, also joined me to present her latest research findings, thanks to an Early Stage Investigator Grant from the NCRG.

The ninth annual Midwest Conference brought together more than 200 clinicians, public health officials, regulators and addiction recovery professionals from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa. This annual conference offers participants an opportunity to interact with a diverse community committed to making a difference and to learn from nationally recognized experts in the field. Additionally, it is an opportunity to network with national and international educators and researchers to discover resources that enhance quality services for individuals with problem gambling and substance abuse behaviors.

Themed “Utilizing Evidence-based Practices,” the event featured sessions on prevention efforts, assessments and treatment of gambling disorders and substance use disorders. The meeting also included special trainings on suicide prevention in conjunction with the Missouri Suicide Prevention Project.

I was delighted to learn that the conference’s kickoff keynote speaker was Rear Admiral Peter Delany, Ph.D., director of the Office of Applied Studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Trained as a social worker, Rear Admiral Delany gave an overview of SAMHSA’s national initiatives toward recovery-oriented systems of care for addiction. Overall, he emphasized the need to have more peer-reviewed research on gambling disorders, especially prevention and treatment. He also encouraged attendees to be involved in SAMHSA’s Recovery Month this coming September, and we hope to integrate that program into the 13thannual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction.

It was my pleasure to lead a breakout session on various free and low-cost resources that are available for mental health treatment providers to learn more about gambling disorders and lead public education efforts about this issue. We covered new avenues to obtain continuing education credits, such as theNCRG’s free webinaron June 20 and the scholarships that are available to attend the NCRG Conference. We also discussed various ways to learn more about upcoming trainings, including the Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center’s weekly email and other organizations’ event calendars, including the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling and the National Council on Problem Gambling. It was a great conversation about what resources are needed for clinicians to better educate their clients, and what ways that they can access existing tools.

On June 7, Dr. King led the keynote session about her NCRG-funded research that analyzed the genetic and environmental factors that impact gambling disorders among youth. Her study examined the Minnesota Twin Family Study, a survey of 1,320 sets of twins who were measured at ages 18 and 25. Dr. King explained that this particular twin study allowed her to estimate the difference in problematic gambling behavior by measuring two variables. First, she studied the differences between fraternal and identical twins to understand the genetic factors that played a role in behavior variances. Second, she examined the environments in which those sets of twins grew up and compared those sets that grew up in a “shared” environment (e.g. similar backgrounds) or a “non-shared” environment (e.g. the twins were raised in separate circumstances). “It is important to use twin studies when trying to understand the genetics versus environment question simply because it lets you have a clearer distinction of where to draw lines and measure variables,” Dr. King said.

The results from this study showed two clear trends. Primarily, there was an increase in the influence of genetics in excessive gambling behavior from ages 18 to 25. When researchers measured this factor at those separate time points, they found that the influence of the twins’ genes grew over time. When measuring the environmental influences, Dr. King found that the shared environment variable was only influential at age 18 and not age 25, but that non-shared environment factors were influential at both ages. These results indicate that both genes and the surrounding environment impact how gambling disorders develop among young adults. More research is needed to further examine these relationships.

To learn more about Dr. King’s work, you can register today for the next NCRG Webinar on June 20. Dr. King will expand on this topic, and participants can earn continuing education credits for their attendance. Visit the NCRG’s Public Education and Outreach section ofwww.ncrg.orgfor more information.

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