Sharp rise in number of gamblers seeking help

Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of North West District, greeting members of the public at the launch of Nams' Addiction Recovery College on National Addictions Awareness Day yesterday. With him was Nams medical board vice-chairman Christopher Cheok.
Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of North West District, greeting members of the public at the launch of Nams' Addiction Recovery College on National Addictions Awareness Day yesterday. With him was Nams medical board vice-chairman Christopher Cheok.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

More people here are seeking help to break the chains of addiction, especially those who are hoping to quit gambling.

Last year, the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) treated 1,700 new patients - a 37 per cent jump over the 1,245 new cases seen four years ago in 2010, when Nams was first set up.

While drug addicts last year formed the largest group of new cases at Nams, at 39 per cent, the sharpest rise was in the number of gamblers seeking help.

Compared to 2010, the number of new gambling addicts seeking help last year at Nams, Singapore's biggest addiction treatment centre, has doubled to 526. In comparison, new drug cases rose by 27 per cent and new alcohol addicts by 18 per cent over the same period.

Singapore's two casinos opened in 2010.

The overall growth is "encouraging as it indicates an increased willingness to seek help", said the vice-chairman of Nams' medical board, Dr Christopher Cheok, at an event at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital yesterday to mark National Addictions Awareness Day.

He said people are more aware of the platforms offering help, such as helplines, as Nams expands its community partnerships.

While there has been a spike in the number of people seeking help for addiction over the years, Dr Cheok said there are still some who are not being helped.

"We believe that there are many others who may be struggling with their addictions in silence, either because they are unaware of the availability of help channels or are in denial," he said.

Nams has tried to make its services more accessible by extending them beyond IMH and its satellite clinics in some polyclinics.

Since August, it has stationed a counsellor with Credit Counselling Singapore, a charity which helps people with debt problems, one day a week. This is so that if its clients' debt issues rose out of a gambling addiction, the Nams counsellor can intervene more quickly.

Likewise, there is a Nams counsellor at Club Heal in Bukit Batok, a voluntary welfare organisation which helps people with mental illness.

Yesterday, Nams launched its education arm - the Addiction Recovery College - to engage the public on addiction prevention as well as treatment and wellness options. A range of courses, workshops and resources will be provided at IMH for the public and practitioners in the field of addictions.

A former substance abuse addict, who wished to be known only as Mr Boon, said his family learnt that he could get help at IMH through an Internet search seven years ago, and got him to go there. He is still receiving outpatient treatment there.

"Then, I never knew that there was a safe place I could go to and it was a lonely journey for me, as people had the misconception that stopping addiction was a matter of willpower," said the 40-year-old.

"But it is involuntary and withdrawal symptoms could lead to depression and suicidal tendencies, so people should know that addiction is a chronic disease and sufferers should seek professional help."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Sharp rise in number of gamblers seeking help'. Print Edition | Subscribe