Jack Rivall, who is earning his license as a drug and alcohol counselor, received a scholarship from Northstar to attend the annual conference of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Tarrytown, NY, on July 14-15. Jack shared his thoughts about the experience.

I am a young professional in the addictions field earning my license as a drug and alcohol counselor. Interestingly, this is the credential required to provide services to problem gamblers. This is because problem gambling and the development of gambling disorder have been shown to have many common elements with the development of substance use disorders (chemical addictions).

The 30th National Conference on Problem Gambling included people from many industries that came together to discuss what they have learned through research and experience. While there were many sessions across many topics to attend, my selections of workshops and lectures were geared toward the treatment and recovery aspects from problem gambling. A sampling of the highlights of the conference for me included:

  • Learning from Jon Kelly, Ph.D., CEO of the Responsible Gaming Council, that focus groups show that more positive and effective prevention was achieved when messages were perceived as not anti-gambling. This is interesting to me when I think about the messaging often proliferated for prevention of drug use. Perhaps effective prevention for chemical use could adapt the findings of messaging from prevention of problem gambling.
  • Attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and hearing from members that were in recovery from gambling (and substances as well, sometimes) for more than 20 years. They were inspirational, caring, intelligent and incredibly insightful souls that supported me through the conference.
  • Learning about fantasy sports from Julie Hynes. The findings about the rapidly growing eSports industry, and gambling within online gaming, will likely be the topic of these conferences for years to come as technology and internet addiction find themselves among these so-called “process addictions.”
  • Hearing how perspectives on gambling have changed over the century and how our influences will necessarily be different. The presentation Generations and Gambling was given by Minnesota’s own Don Feeney, research and planning director at the Minnesota Lottery.

The NCPG conference was unlike my previous experiences in conferences that were centered on themes of substance use disorders. Some attendees were representatives of casinos and resorts alongside those in prevention, treatment, clinicians, psychiatrists and social scientists. Their input and revelations from the industry, with their own knowledge and wisdom, gave the conference a special flavor.

I learned so much and made many meaningful connections from my attendance at the conference. I learned that greater efforts to educate the public about the realities of gambling disorders are badly needed since there are many misconceptions and myths that persist in public opinion. I learned that, similar to drug addiction, the public is likely to believe that the addiction is caused by personal or moral weakness rather than believing or accepting a medical explanation.

I am grateful to the Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance for the opportunity to attend the conference and grow in my career.