NAMs clinic sees more patients seeking help for gambling addiction

SINGAPORE: More problem gamblers are seeking help from the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) clinic, that’s based at the Institute of Mental Health.

At the clinic, problem gambling accounts for 17 per cent of addiction cases in 2009, up from five per cent in 2007.

The new clinic sees about 2,000 patients a year for a range of addiction problems.

And for the past three years, about half were treated for drug addictions.

Close to 30 per cent sought help for alcohol addiction.

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

Fighting an addiction is a joint effort and it is a problem the "Tans" have been grappling with.

49—year—old "Alan Tan" started gambling at the age of 11.

Slowly, he got hooked on slot machines.

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

With his wife’s support, Alan has stayed away from gambling since he started going for counselling sessions over the last two years.

43—year—old "Susan", who works as an administrator, realised how serious Alan’s problem was, when he gambled away her entire pay check.

She aid: "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 problem gamblers seeking help at the clinic.

Doctors said most of the patients seeking help for gambling addiction are men in their 40s. While there are very few youth gamblers, the youngest patient they’ve seen so far is 18 years old.

And most of the gamblers are addicted to soccer betting, buying lottery as well as casino games.

While the number of new drug and alcohol addiction cases have remained stable over the last three years, the number of new gambling addiction cases has increased.

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

Associate Professor Wong Kim Eng, clinical director, NAMS clinic, said: "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. At the same time, we ourselves are also going out to educate people and the NCPG is also educating the public on the ills of gambling. So we attribute this to the increased awareness."

Another silver lining is that treatment outcomes for patients 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 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. — CNA/vm