Treating gambling disorders

East Tennessee State University is home to the second clinic in the state to treat people whose lives have been significantly affected by gambling, thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (MHSAS).

This grant was recently awarded to the University of Memphis (UM) Institute for Gambling Education and Research (TIGER) to expand gambling research and treatment services to all Tennesseans. .

“Over the next five years, our partnership with MHSAS will position Tennessee as a leader in addressing gambling harms experienced by people living in our communities,” Ginley said.

For most people, gambling does not harm themselves or others. However, according to TIGER, more than 200,000 Tennesseans will experience some level of harm as a result of their gambling, and for another 100,000, that level of harm can be diagnosed as a gambling disorder. Every person with a gambling disorder will have a negative impact on six other people. Gambling harms include mental health issues, failed businesses, criminal activity, broken families, bankruptcy, and suicide.

Gambling continues to grow and nine out of 10 people with a gambling problem never seek treatment. The Tennessee Education Lottery posted record $2 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2021-22, while an additional $2 billion was wagered in Tennessee on sporting events in a single year.

Under the leadership of Dr. James Whelan, UM Professor of Psychology and Director of the Institute, TIGER has earned an international reputation for research into the prevention and treatment of gambling disorders since its inception in 1999. The partnership with MHSAS has enabled TIGER to maintain a clinic on the UM campus to treat over 1,000 people whose lives have been significantly impacted by gambling.

Whelan calls this latest MHSAS grant a “game changer,” as it provides for the opening of the Institute’s second clinic at ETSU.

“A good defense is our best offense at this point because the symptoms of gaming disorder only increase with the ubiquity of sports play,” he said.

The ETSU Clinic is led by Dr. Meredith Ginley, Assistant Professor of Psychology who earned her Ph.D. at UM and studied under Whelan. The new clinic will focus its efforts on providing services to people in rural and urban communities in Appalachia, while the UM clinic focuses on ethnic minorities and urban communities in West Tennessee. Both clinics accommodate telehealth clients living anywhere in the state who might not find it convenient to drive to one of the clinics.

Together, these clinics will assess the effectiveness and efficacy of treating gambling disorders in historically underserved communities. They will also provide cross-training for clinical psychology graduate student therapists in telehealth and in-person services.

“Over the next five years, our partnership with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will position Tennessee as a leader in addressing gambling harms experienced by people living in our communities,” Ginley said.

The grant funding will also strengthen treatment through the creation and evaluation of an online portal for gambling assessment and treatment. Research on the online portal will be led by Dr. Rory Pfund, Professor research assistant and UM graduate.

“Our lawmakers’ decision to set aside funds for gambling treatment has provided Tennessee with an opportunity to care for those harmed by gambling,” Whelan said. “The Institute for Gambling Education and Research stands ready to take on the responsibility to help. For decades, we’ve partnered with clients to learn more about the uniqueness of gambling as an addiction. In turn, the challenges of the clinic have been the focus of the lab.

Ginley said the Institute’s research will lead to a better understanding of how best to help people with gambling disorders, which are different from substance use disorders.

“Nobody says, ‘If I just have one more six-pack, that’ll solve all my problems,'” Ginley said. “But every time you play, there’s a real chance you could win all that money that would solve all your problems. So the cognitive processes and intervention methods are a bit different, and that’s something that TIGER has learned a lot that will allow us to provide specialized care to this population.

For more information, visit the Gambling Clinic website at memphis.edu/gamblingclinic/. To schedule a telehealth or in-person appointment with ETSU’s Institute for Gambling Education and Research clinic, contact [email protected] or Ginley directly at [email protected] or (423) 439-4113 .


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