Number of gambling addiction cases on rise

The National Addictions Management Service or NAMS clinic says more are seeking help for gambling addiction. 

While gambling addiction used to account for 5 per cent of all addiction cases in 2007, it accounts for 17 per cent of all cases in 2009. 

Cases in FY April 07 to March ’08, it accounts for 17 percent of all cases in FY April 2009 to March 2010.

The new clinic which is based at the Institute of Mental Health sees about 2,000 patients a year for a range of addiction problems. 

For the past three years, about half were treated for drug addictions and close to 30 per cent were for alcohol addictions. 

The clinic also sees behavioural addictions like cyber and sex addictions, which account for less than 5 per cent of all cases. 

At the age of 6, Mr Alan Tan who didn't want to be identified by his real name, started learning how to play mahjong. 

The 49-year-old had his first taste of gambling at the age of 11 and was thrilled whenever he won a game. 

By 1995, he got hooked on slot machines. 

"From 1995 to 2008, I got addicted to gambling on the slot machines and I lost $300,000. At the same time, I almost lost my marriage as my wife wanted a divorce. I felt very pained."

Having gone for counselling sessions over the last two years, Alan has stayed away from gambling. 

And he says he couldn't have done it without his wife's support. 

43-year-old Susan, who works as an administrator, says she always knew that her husband liked to gamble but didn't think much of it. 

It was only when Alan gambled away her entire paycheck that she realised how serious it was. 

" It's very scary and I know that addiction will actually ruin a person's personality, character and also people around him will be very hurt."

Alan is one of the growing number of cases the National Addictions Management Service clinic attends to. 

While the number of new drug and alcohol addiction cases have remained stable over the last three years, there has been a spike in the number of new cases for gambling addiction. 

Gambling addiction made up 24 per cent of all new cases seen last year, up from 9 per cent in 2007. 

Associate Professor Wong Kim Eng, Clinical Director of the clinic explains. 

"I think the rise in gambling addiction cases can be attributed to increased public awareness. As you know with the opening of the casinos, people are thinking about gambling and so on, and so there is increased public awareness. And also, at the same time, we, ourselves are also going out to educate people and at the same time the NCPG is also educating the public on the ills of gambling, so we attribute this to the increased awareness."

Doctors say majority of the patients seeking help for gambling addiction are men in their 40s. 

While there are very few youths, the youngest patient they've seen so far is 18 years old. 

And most patients they see are addicted to soccer betting, buying lottery as well as casino games. 

But there's a silver lining. 

Treatment outcomes for patients enrolled in the programmes at the clinic have been promising. 

Last year, about 70 per cent of patients with substance use disorder showed significant improvement after staying in treatment for three months. 

More than half also showed improvement in their quality of life.

Close to 80 per cent of patients who suffered from problem gambling showed an improvement by about 30 per cent. 

The new clinic located at Buangkok Green Medical Park is the only tertiary treatment facility for addictions in Singapore. 

It is built on the Community Addictions Management Programme, which was set up in 2001. 

Due to an increase in patient load as well as demand for specialised addiction treatment services, the programme was expanded. 

NAMS has been operating from its dedicated outpatient clinic since June last year and provides a range of services including psychiatric assessment, counselling and support for families.