For those in Cape May County dealing with a gambling problem, a Wildwood addiction counseling service is offering resources closer to home.
Cape Assist has partnered with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey to offer funded treatment for those suffering from gambling problems and their family members, becoming the first agency in the county to do so.
The counseling services, which are available for state residents 18 and older, started July 1 after all clinical staff at the facility completed training from the council.
Kathryn Gibson, Cape Assist’s director of recovery services said they are excited to bring the services to an area she says is affected by both its proximity to Atlantic City as well as easier access to online gambling in general.
“A lot of our clients really need these services, and it’s not easy to find in our area,” she said.
The percentage of New Jersey residents considered to have a gambling disorder is three times the national average, according to a 2017 report from Rutgers University’s Center for Gambling Studies.
Cape May and Cumberland counties combined reported the highest percentages of past year gamblers in the state, with 76.4%. Atlantic County alone reported 72.2%.
Gibson said gambling affects the brain in the same areas that certain drugs affect, namely the brain’s reward centers.
“A lot of the same symptoms we see with a substance abuse disorder we can see a lot with gambling as well,” she said.
She’s known some people to use gambling to replace drugs or alcohol, but has also seen a lot of people have gambling as a “co-occurring” addiction along with substance abuse.
But unlike substance abuse, the triggers for gambling can be harder to avoid.
“You could go the rest of your life without taking a substance, but you cannot go the rest of your life without having money in your hand,” Gibson said.
Gibson said there are types of betting that are built into daily life, such as watching sports on TV, starting office pools, shopping in convenience stores that sell scratch-offs and actually going into casinos.
“It just looks different because its not actually a drug, and it’s much more acceptable,” she said.
Gibson said they learned about the different challenges for those with gambling problems and how to navigate them in their training.
“It was really helpful for us to understand how to work with them, how to work with their families, how we can help them while a lot of them are also suffering from substance abuse disorders and trying to help them become a more stable person in recovery,” Gibson said.
If you or someone you love has a gambling problem and would like counseling services, Cape Assist can be reached at 609-522-5960 or for more information, email Sandy@capeassist.org.