Arlene* , Rose* and Valerie* love to get coffee together. The three women, all almost eighty, make sure to get together often to share stories and friendship over a cup of joe.
They met through Gamblers Anonymous, a support group provided by gambling addiction counselors at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. While the ladies lean on one another for support in recovering from a gambling addiction, they have all become great friends.
However, their conversations have sounded a bit different lately. Because of social-distancing regulations, the women transitioned to having their coffee dates over the phone.
Microsoft Teams, they don’t use Zoom, but they’re very comfortable using the phone.”
On their telephone coffee date earlier this week, the ladies were brainstorming ways they could stay busy and continue their recovery while social distancing at home. Arlene shared that she is sewing as many masks as her sewing machine can handle.
As the situation surrounding COVID-19 changes day by day, addiction counselors with Gamblers Choice continue to quickly adapt programming in order to provide the best care for clients.
“We’ve had to be flexible and let people know that we’ll work with them however we can,” said Cronin. “We have had more contacts now than we did before all this because we are really trying to be more available to clients and be reaching out more.”
Both Cronin and another Gamblers Choice counselor, Lisa Vig, explained that loneliness is a major factor in gambling addiction.
“So many of our clients have said ‘I felt less lonely when I was gambling. Even though I’m in a crowd, that was a way of making me feel less lonely,’” Vig said. “It’s kind of a tricky time to be helping them figure out how to be less lonely in their life when we’re asking them to work from home, to isolate, to socially distance themselves.”
To help clients continue on their path to recovery and ease the feelings of loneliness that come alongside social isolation, the program has begun matching clients based on what technology they have access to or feel comfortable using.
In addition, weekly Gamblers Anonymous meetings continue over telephone. In fact, clients have had the opportunity to attend meetings via the phone in other cities that would normally be too far away to attend.
“If our clients were to lose their connection with one another, that would put them at real risk
of not just a return to gambling, but also of depression or anxiety,” said Cronin. “They have a real bond with each other, not only through treatment groups but through their support groups. They’ve been doing really well at reaching out and supporting each other.”
While Gamblers Anonymous meetings and counseling sessions continue to happen virtually, Vig emphasized that the closure of casinos across the country has not decreased the need for services.
“Online gambling is still available, lottery tickets, scratch offs — there are still ways for people to gamble besides the casino,” said Vig. “This is a great time to help our clients explore a little bit more about their addiction, about their withdrawal symptoms, about how they cope with things.”
What is more, the closure of casinos has actually resulted in a lost source of revenue for the program. Prior to the outbreak, casinos were required to allocate money for gambling addiction treatment. Now that they are no longer making money, programs like Gamblers Choice are no longer receiving dollars they count on to support the treatment they provide.
Currently, the Gamblers Choice program at LSS is funded through insurance billing, North Dakota state grants, out-of-pocket payments, donations and grants from casinos.
“Funding from casinos is going to be revenue that is lost to our program,” said Vig. “It’s important to be mindful of that and to be aware of how important all those pieces of funding are for our program.”
Regardless of what happens with funding, both Vig and Cronin stressed that Gamblers Choice counselors are unwavering in their commitment to help their clients along the road to recovery. In fact, services have even been enhanced as counselors use this time as an opportunity to check in with their clients more often.
“Staff are really committed to helping our clients feel a sense of success through this pandemic,” said Vig. “We are having to do things out of the ordinary, but we’re all in it together. We really are. We’re trying to figure it out the best way we can.”
To learn more about Gamblers Choice or seek treatment, visit gamblernd.org
Lastly, if you would like to donate to help gambling addiction services continue, visit lssnd.org/donate.
We are here for you.
– By Micayla Bitz
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.