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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

ASSMCA launches gambling addiction awareness campaign

Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, head of the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration

By John McPhaul

As part of the commemoration of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, head of the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials), announced Monday that the agency is carrying out various activities to raise awareness on the problem of excessive gambling and publicize the availability of its services for the prevention, treatment and recovery from a diagnosed gambling addiction.

“A compulsive gambler engages in persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior,” Rodríguez Mateo said in a written statement. “This behavior causes the person significant discomfort or disability. For this reason, it is important that health providers screen their patients for compulsive gambling problems. Also, keep in mind that about half of the people who have gambling problems are in treatment for some other condition, but do not seek or receive specialized treatment for problems related to gambling or betting behavior. That is why it is so important for health professionals to ask their patients about gambling patterns.”

“At ASSMCA we continue to guide the general population through our social networks and community activities about the indicators of excessive gambling and the services available to this population,” the ASSMCA chief added. “Historically, when we talk about an ‘addiction’ we refer to drug addiction. However, today we know that addictions are not limited to behaviors generated by the uncontrolled consumption of a substance, but rather that there are habits or patterns of behavior that appear to be harmless but that, under certain circumstances, can become addictive and seriously interfere in the daily life of the people affected.”

It is estimated worldwide that between 2% and 5% of the population has problems with or an addiction to gambling or betting. According to the American Psychiatric Association, gaming addiction affects between 0.4% and 1% of the population in the United States. Using this estimate and applying it to Puerto Rico, it is suggested that around 25,000 people suffer from the addiction.

“There is still very little talk about the people who suffer from this problem and the impact on their families, which is why the ASSMCA has joined this awareness effort,” Rodríguez Mateo said. “It is important to know the magnitude of problematic gambling in Puerto Rico and how to protect the person, their family and the community from the negative consequences of excessive gambling.”

The ASSMCA Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Program has locations in San Juan, Mayagüez and Ponce. It offers guidance, support and multiple specialized treatment services. Services are free to the patient and that person’s family members who have been affected by the gambling or gambling conduct. In addition, the program has a clinical team made up of specialists in the areas of social work, psychology, substance counseling and psychiatry that conducts screening and evaluation of gambling and betting behavior, as well as individual and group psychosocial evaluation and treatment, psychiatric treatment, training in financial management, and family therapy.

Rodríguez Mateo emphasized that one of the greatest risks for a person with a gambling problem or who suffers from a pathological gambling disorder is the difficulty in limiting the amount of money or time dedicated to gambling or betting.

“The person has no control and cannot establish limits despite the consequences for himself, his family and the community in general,” he said. “This is why, if you recognize in yourself, in your family member or someone close to you that you have any of these behaviors, you may have a gambling problem.”

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