I believe I was born a compulsive gambler. From the first time I flipped a coin or a baseball card I knew it was for me. Genetically, my grandfather was a compulsive gambler and he died before I was born. I grew up in a dense neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. Playing sports was big and I couldn’t play very well. I was often bullied and suffered low-esteem. At the age of 12 I began playing poker with the same athletes that humiliated me on the field. However, I was the better player and usually won. I was the “big shot” now. It change the way I felt about myself. I think that’s what locked my addiction in. By the time I was 16 I had a bookie, was going to the horse race track, and was playing in much bigger poker games with older, better players than me. Eventually it obliterated my adolescence.
Although proficient in computers in the 1970s, I was thrown out of numerous colleges and lost as many jobs, although I never thought I had a gambling problem. I had a losing and/or financial problem. By the age of 24 after a series of evictions, shut off utilities, dwindling friends and withdrawal from my family I finally sought help. The only treatment available at the time was the 12-Step Gamblers Anonymous Program and I attended my first meeting in 1979. I knew I belonged as soon as I heard the first speaker. I moved to California and continued to attend GA meetings. All I did was stop gambling. I made few other changes to my life and never explored what need my gambling met. I relapsed after 2 years clean from gambling.
It took me over a year and a half to “get back on the wagon”. This time however I went to GA meetings in conjunction with seeing one of the few providers – a psychiatrist that specialized in pathological gambling. I finally got the therapeutic help I needed to understand the circumstances of my childhood and how I used gambling to cope with life, even though it was destroying me.
I went back to school and received a degree in human services with emphasis on drug and alcohol counseling. In 1998 I was fortunate to be part of one of the first certification programs in the country to become a gambling counselor. Eventually I became the lead trainer in facilitating gambling counseling certification and worked for UCLA with an exceptional team training therapists to treat problem gamblers and affected individuals. I also spent many years working with casinos developing responsible gambling programs and facilitating trainings.
A lot has changed since the DSM-5 put gambling in with substance abuse disorder in 2013. The quality of research, treatment and training for problem gamblers have vastly improved. The amount of providers have grown exponentially since I first sought treatment, though there is still nowhere near enough. I’ve had the privilege of running inpatient gambling treatment programs and training staff to offer the best available evidenced based treatment throughout my career. As time moves forward, technologies advance, and more gambling options become available, I believe there needs to be a rethink on how we provide services now.
This is why I’m excited to be working with Kindbridge. Although there are now many more providers than before, many areas still have little or no access to treatment. With Kindbridge we can offer the best technology with the best trained staff to perform services in those areas. Based on over 40 years being with people in recovery from gambling I’ve seen members and clients in all shapes and sizes. I’m content to be part a company that takes in consideration culture, gender and age to customize the best treatment plans. Also, as gambling is a family disease, our mission is to offer treatment to the family as soon as possible. Top notch training and research will be another cornerstone of Kindbridge’s mission to offer the newest evidenced based treatment.
After 37 years of recovery and abstinence from gambling I’ve heard tens of thousands of people share their problem gambling experiences. What I see most in common are problem gamblers and affected individuals who receive quality therapy with well-trained providers have the greatest success in abstaining and recovering from gambling while improving their quality of life. For those who think they are in a hopeless situation attributed to gambling, Kindbridge offers that hope through the highest quality of treatment.
We are also working on several of the bigger picture issues that are facing treatment providers today. The reality is, gambling expansion is well underway, and we need providers that are either certified or want to get certified in treating problem gambling. There are not enough of us. We want to provide training and certifications for treating this particular addiction as part of a providers career development. We believe that the industry is going to need at least 5 times more certified gambling counselors than currently exist in the US.
We are also aggressively developing research programs across some of the best research universities and institutes that have a specialty in problem gambling and gaming research to unearth new evidence based approaches to treating in virtual settings. New technologies, new care path definition, new program design. We want to tackle it all so that individuals, families and groups that are struggling with a gambling or gaming addiction not only know where to turn, but know where they can receive the best care.
Finally, we are looking at how to lower the cost of care so that treatment doesn’t have to put such a heavy cost burden on the health system and the care providers. We’re working on how to centralize care so that a provider can work from anywhere and treat in several different states. This, as well, we are building into our providers career path with us.
We believe there is a better way to serve the community of problem gamblers. Let recovery set you free.