Helpline Adds Motivational Texting

Helpline Adds Motivational Texting

Needless to say, we live in a world where texting seems the preeminent form of communication. So why shouldn’t it play an important role in helping someone with a gambling problem.

Now, in Minnesota, it does. LifeWorks, which manages the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline, now offers a service called Encourage Me that consists of motivational text messaging.

Encourage Me motivational text messaging is offered to both gamblers and affected others in both English and Spanish. Messages are sent twice each week for three months and are tailored to fit into the client’s stage of change, as clients require a different type of information and support in each stage. The messages provide both information about gambling and problem gambling, encouragement to change, and tips and suggestions on how to make the changes they want to make.

“We realize that some people may just be thinking about changing, while others need maintenance during the recovery period,” says Ashley Trantham, Manager of Customer Success at LifeWorks. Motivational messaging is offered as a supplemental treatment tool and isn’t meant to be a substitute for counseling.

Here are some questions and answers about Encourage Me:

Why Texting?

· The program was developed using research from successful healthcare-related texting programs such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and medication management.

· Text messages have a 98% open rate vs. a 20% open rate for emails.

· Text messages can be opened at any time that is most convenient to the user.

· Available on almost every model of mobile phone.

· Provides a reminder that someone cares.

· Reminds the user that help is available.

Is it effective?

Yes! Outcome surveys are conducted at the conclusion of the texts and in the first year, 86% of survey responses indicated that receiving a text message every week helped keep them focused and working on their goals about gambling. Example comment: “I have not gambled since calling the helpline and found the text messages helpful for reinforcement, reminding me to focus on my goal of not gambling.”

Examples of texts

Contemplation: Consider changing your thoughts from “I have to stop gambling” to “I want to stop gambling”
Preparation: You have made significant progress by just acknowledging that gambling is no longer fun. You’re on the right path.
Action: Today is the day to be good to yourself. Take a walk, enjoy the warmth of the sun, or give yourself the gift of feeling good about managing your gambling.
Maintenance: Take the time to review and modify your goals and plans for recovering from problem gambling. Stay active in your recovery!

Can a person enroll more than once?

How do I enroll a client?

Clients are offered Encourage Me messages as a standard part of their call to the Problem Gambling Helpline. If your client has not yet enrolled, you can enroll them by calling the helpline together or recommending that they contact the Helpline themselves. Curious? You can call and sign yourself up, too!

In Their Own Words – Melanie’s Story

In Their Own Words – Melanie’s Story

I was exposed to a variety of games early in my life. Our family played Pokeno — which is how I learned to play cards — and spun dreidels, which was the first game I played that involved money. I won my first big pot at the age of five years old.

As I got a little older, I played poker and pinochle. I remember losing all my money in poker to my neighbors but then watching my father bail me out by winning it all back. I enjoyed the thrill of being a part of that.

I went to a casino for the first time at 21. I enjoyed it. Then, at about age 30, I met a man who also enjoyed gambling. We started playing Bingo a lot and pull tabs. I remember finding Bingo to be slow, so I played multiple cards and also pull tabs between games.

It was about this time when I started to become preoccupied with gambling. I began lying to myself and others about money. I lost a job directly because of errors in my work due to my gambling, which I sometimes did for 24-36 hours before work.

Eventually, I started attending GA meetings with my husband, but mainly to support him. I looked at the others and thought they had more problems than I did. There was a part of me that wanted to stop, but my desire to continue gambling was greater than my desire to not gamble.

I rationalized that gambling helped me when I was feeling depressed, as I would otherwise just stay home and sleep. I became suicidal, but since I only felt that way when I wasn’t gambling, I convinced myself that I should keep gambling.

Eventually, I realized that my gambling was a symptom of a deeper problem. Gambling was a part of keeping feelings down — guilt, shame, remorse, etc. I was doing things that were against my core principles, such as lying to dear friends, writing bad checks, losing jobs, more drinking and depression. I rationalized some of my behavior by thinking that I hadn’t gone to prison or killed anyone.

While I stopped gambling for periods of time, I couldn’t stop completely. My finances were in ruin and I was full of anger toward myself and my out-of-control behavior.  Thanks to my fellow GA members, I was eventually hospitalized for a second time for depression and then went on to treatment for my gambling. The last time I gambled was on February 19, 2011.

I learned that you can find hope and meaning from the most unlikely of sources. In my gambling fog, I had neglected so many things, including my dog and my plants. While I was away, a friend cared for my house, including my plants. When I returned home, I saw that my tomato plant had somehow survived and was even sprouting new life; I refer to it as Lazarus the Tomato Plant. I took that as a sign that I was going to grow a new life as well.

I can’t believe all the positive things about my life. I’m proud of who I am today and the work I do with the GA program. In the past, I thought only of myself. Now I think of others and volunteer my talents whenever possible. I’ve grown personally. I challenge myself to do things that make me uncomfortable. I enjoy trying new things and taking new approaches in my life of recovery.

If people reading this are on the fence about whether to seek help, I would tell them to keep coming back. Although I was initially not working the GA program when I attended the meetings, they still helped me — the seeds eventually took. I would encourage others to hang on to the desire to stop gambling. It doesn’t have to be an armload of desire; it can be a smidgeon. The desire to stop gambling just has to be greater than the desire to gamble.

In Their Own Words – Megan’s Story

In Their Own Words – Megan’s Story

MNAPG Northern Light Spring 2022

At a very young age, I remember people telling me, “You’re lucky. You’re just like your grandma.”

Well, my grandmother was a compulsive gambler. But gambling didn’t have devastating consequences to her life because she could only gamble the set amount of money my grandfather gave her. Her gambling never caused her to go without food or to miss rent.

I was raised in a very dysfunctional family. My mother used drugs and would let drug dealers and users sexually abuse her for drugs. As a result, I grew up with no boundaries and would do everything I could to not feel anything.

Until my mid 30s, I went to casinos every now and then, maybe once a year. It was fun. But then two things happened. First, I got divorced, and I started going to the casino more. And second, I got a big win.

When I first won big, I remember thinking this should be my job, that I could never make money this fast. My bets got higher to get the same dopamine rush.

It didn’t take long before I knew I had a gambling problem, but I didn’t know how to label it. I called myself a “gamblaholic” because I didn’t know of any other term. Nobody told me to get help.

I spent a six-figure court settlement in the span of three months and lived in seven places in less than a year. I dated men and essentially had sex for money so that I could continue to gamble.

It got to the point where every time I was driving back to the casino, I’d think about ways I could hurt herself. The wanting to die consumed me. I thought, “If I win, I’ll live. If I don’t, then I can always commit suicide.” I tried to commit suicide three times.

I needed and wanted help, so I googled gambling help in Minnesota. I called and had an intake meeting with an outpatient counselor. She highly recommended that I go for inpatient help at Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery. However, I had joint custody and after a tumultuous divorce my ex would not take my son beyond the schedule. I wanted so badly to get help but felt stuck.


A week after I tried to hang myself, my final suicide attempt, my 18-year-old son finally said to me, “Mom, please go get help.” He said he would take care of the house and his brother so that I could go. I can honestly say that he saved my life. I had no more excuses to not get help.  

My gambling often went hand-in-hand with using meth. Thankfully, Vanguard was able to help with both issues. There is no question in my mind that getting over gambling is much harder than getting over drugs, even though gambling doesn’t involve ingesting anything into your body.

Indeed, there is so much that people don’t understand about gambling addiction, even in health care. I work in nursing, and when I talk to the providers about gambling disorder, most say they never received training on the topic. I tell them about the high suicide rate, that you can’t wake up and be sober as you can from alcohol, and that when you look at your checking account, it’s still negative. These providers may see people with gambling problems but have no idea where to send them for help.

I’ve talked to my pastor often and try to share my story at church, where they most often talk about drug and alcohol addiction. I am willing to share my story to anyone if it can help somebody.

If anyone reading this wonders if they have a problem and are on the fence about what to do, here is what I would say. Go online and learn about gambling addiction. Take the 20-question screening to see how many questions you answer “Yes” to. Then, if it’s appropriate, seek help, whether it’s searching for “Minnesota gambling help,” looking into Gambler’s Anonymous or calling the state’s helpline (1-800-333-HOPE). People who are struggling should also know that there are programs to help them financially so they can get treatment.

My story is not very pretty, but I am truly grateful for my addiction because it has turned my life around. My relationships are better, I’m honest and open, and am able to share things that bother me. I’m happy and working hard to earn a paycheck. I appreciate this so much more than if I didn’t have a gambling addiction and hadn’t gotten help. I have serenity.

Peer Support Specialists Play Vital Role in Problem Gambling Recovery

Peer Support Specialists Play Vital Role in Problem Gambling Recovery

As seen on The Phoenix Spirit. Read the original article Here.

By Bill Stein

There is great power in learning from someone who has “been there before.” People with similar lived experience may be able to listen and provide hope and guidance in a way that is uniquely received.

So-called “mental health peer support” has existed for decades. Since the 1990s, the concept of “consumers as providers” has become a larger component in mental health service settings.

Perhaps there is no more powerful example of the power of peer support than when a recovering compulsive gambler shares their story with someone still in the throes of addiction. Indeed, programs such as Gamblers Anonymous are built largely on the idea that others with similar challenges can lead the way to recovery.

Peer support specialists are people who have been successful in the recovery process and can help others experiencing similar situations. Peer support specialists have a proven place as a key component of integrated care for recovery.

What is a Peer Support Specialist?

A peer support specialist is someone with lived experience who is able to share that perspective with another person who has not yet achieved recovery from addiction. They provide a link between clinical services and “outside” supports and can help someone navigate the behavioral health system and find appropriate community resources. A peer provides an example of empowerment and success and can be a trusted role model. It’s often easier for a person seeking to begin recovery to talk with a peer support specialist than it is to talk to a counselor or attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Peer support specialists can also foster trust in a healthcare system that has often disenfranchised many of those whom it serves.

The value of lived experience is helpful throughout the time a peer support specialist spends with a client but can be particularly helpful when the gambler is vulnerable to relapsing. Some peers are available 24/7 so that a gambler in distress can reach them at any time.

Benefits of Gambling Peer Recovery Support

Recovery from any addiction is a long process. Most people need support at various points throughout the difficult journey. While everyone’s struggle to achieve recovery is different, what each person has in common is the need to receive support in one form or another. Although the faces of addiction are many, all persons on the road to recovery need the support of others, who need to be familiar with what it means to be an addict.

There are four key elements to the support provided by the peer support specialists:

  1. Emotional support. The peer support specialist provides emotional support by encouraging the individual through empathy, concern or caring, and helping to strengthen confidence and self-esteem.
  2. Information source. The peer support specialist shares their knowledge about resources available to guide individuals to success, including access to treatment, which is often available at no cost.
  3. At a practical level, a peer support specialist can help people complete tasks necessary for successful recovery, such as helping with transportation and housing.
  4. A peer support specialist helps individuals gain a sense of belonging and being with others.

Peer support specialists may get involved in a range of activities, including:

  • Being a voice in individual, family, and group counseling.
  • Providing support to family members of problem gamblers.
  • Helping someone through financial counseling.
  • Being available by phone (including after hours).
  • Giving presentations, teaching, and providing training.
  • Being the voice of recovery providing input into program planning.
  • Serving as a connection to the “recovery community.”
  • Providing support in negotiations with the criminal justice system.

Many who work in recovery are in recovery themselves

Many people believe that individuals without shared experience cannot help those with addictions or fully understand what they’ve gone through. Studies provide considerable support for this contention. A review of existing studies found that the percentage of substance use disorder treatment providers who were in recovery was 33-50 percent. Those in recovery who are involved in client care have an ability to introduce their clients and patients to 12-step and other self-help supports in ways that those not in recovery are unable to do.

Provider Benefits

Peer support specialists that work within a treatment delivery system can provide an important benefit to providers. They can offer assistance with resources for those identified with a gambling problem and/or their family members. 

Trained Professionals

While specifics vary by state, there is a formal process for becoming certified as a peer support specialist. In Minnesota, peer specialists must have 30 hours of continuing education every two years in areas of mental health recovery, mental health rehabilitative services and peer support.

The Need for Gambling Peer Support Specialists in Minnesota

Unfortunately, peer support specialists are not currently approved as part of gambling treatment programs in Minnesota. However, a number of other states, including Maryland and Connecticut, recognize them as vital parts of treatment and recovery. In each of these state programs, gambling peer support specialists engage with an individual as soon as they call the state gambling helpline. While not everyone seeking help may be ready to sit down with a counselor, they may be receptive to having a conversation, or a series of conversations, with a trained peer before seeking formal counseling. In fact, each of these states have seen an increase in those seeking treatment since the inclusion of the peer support specialist, crediting the importance of those early conversations.

In Connecticut and Maryland, the gambling peer support specialist is an integral component to an individual’s recovery treatment plan, working in conjunction with the counselor as added support. Peer support specialists are also available post-treatment, maintaining connections as the person in their early recovery begins to negotiate their new way of being.

The Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling is working with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to bring peer support professionals into the treatment mix given their clear value in helping those with gambling addiction in their recovery journeys.

In Their Own Words – Willie’s Story

In Their Own Words – Willie’s Story

I’ll never forget the first time I realized there was hope for my compulsive gambling. I was at confession and the priest said, “I don’t normally do this, but I’m giving you the phone number of someone in gambling addiction recovery at Gamblers Anonymous (GA).”

I always had the desire to quit gambling, but didn’t feel like I had the tools or the power to do it. I went to weekly GA meeting, and although I had weekly relapses in the beginning, I kept going. I’ve been going for more than three years, and the meetings continue to sustain me in my recovery.

When I was young, my grandparents and family loved to play Thirty-one and other card games for nickels or quarters. When I won the ‘pot’ it was like a big win for me. When I lost, I remember my grandma saying, “If you can’t play, you gotta pay.” It was always very enjoyable and I was lucky with it most of the time.

In college, I went to casinos with my parents. I brought $20-40 to lose. I played normally and, at this point, didn’t think of myself as a gambler.

After that, I went on a tour of different states to visit different casinos and their different games. My first really big disaster occurred in Las Vegas, where I lost my entire paycheck. I remember walking two miles in the desert with no money and feeling despair for the first time. I continued to gamble and always played until I lost everything.

A few years later, I remember going to a casino and praying because I was feeling attacked by demons at the casino. The people to my right were arguing about money while the faces of the people leaving the casino were distraught. These images were in marked contrast to people just arriving, who were running in and joyful.

At this point, I realized that if I were to continue gambling, I would lose my life’s savings. I decided that I was going to quit gambling, which I did for 13 years.

Then about six years ago, I went to a casino as part of a Christmas party my employer had. I won a TV and split a large 50-50 jackpot, and decided that gambling wasn’t so bad. Within a few months, I had four big wins, ranging from about $1,000 to $6,000. I remember thinking, “This is fantastic. This is easy money.”

I was courted in the VIP program and invited to parties and special events. I went to the casino four to five times a week. I also learned how to get a cash advance on credit cards and how to link my player’s card to my bank so I could take money out in advance. In that year, I lost about $28,000.

Things turned dark for me. I suffered from anxiety and medical issues, including a visit to the ER for a racing heart. I worked overtime, but every cent went to the casino. This went on for three years.

I looked into the Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery and was told that I could benefit from enrolling there. However, I worried whether going there would jeopardize my job. I felt like I had to choose between losing my job or losing my life.

Between the tools I’ve gained from (inpatient) treatment at Vanguard, outpatient treatment and my GA meetings, I’ve been able to sustain my recovery since May. I know that I can string days together with sobriety and take comfort in knowing I only have to make a decision for the day.

Given my history — and given the nature of this nasty addiction — I can’t say that I’ll never gamble again. But I do know that every day in recovery is a better day than every day spent gambling.

If I could reach out to someone in the grip of gambling — who probably feels that it could lead to some kind of insanity or even death — I would tell them how quickly things start to get better once you start your recovery. In Minnesota, we are lucky to have many great resources, but you have to reach out.

Status of Telehealth Counseling Uncertain

Status of Telehealth Counseling Uncertain

Minnesota’s Department of Human Services continues to follow the federal health emergency guidelines for providing telehealth services. The current three-month approval will end in November. As of mid-October, there was no indication from DHS — one way or the other — as to whether this will continue.

Given the success of telehealth counseling and Minnesota’s expansive geography and often-hazardous winter weather, MNAPG will continue to advocate for this service becoming a permanent tool for counselors and therapists. With only 18 certified problem gambling providers in the state of Minnesota, most located in the Twin Cities metro area, we believe telehealth counseling is an essential tool in helping those experiencing harm from gambling, whether a gambler or a family member. While in-person will always be the gold standard, we think the accessibility of telehealth counseling can be extremely helpful for those seeking to begin their recovery.