Mark Your Behavioral Health Calendars!

March 2017



National Problem Gambling Awareness Month


March 10: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day


March 15: Kick Butts Day (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids)


March 20: National Native American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day


March 30: World Bipolar Day

Ohio Problem Gambling Conference

March 2–3, 2017

Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center

Lewis Center, Ohio

Fully Integrating Problem Gambling Services into Behavioral Health               


2017 National Conference on Tobacco or Health

March 20–24, 2017

Austin Convention Center

Austin, Texas


Altarum Institute’s Twitter Chat on Behavioral Health
March 30: 1:00 p.m. ET.

Topic: Bipolar Disorder

Note from the Director

In recognition of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, Diana Williams, director of the Behavioral Health Technical Assistance Center, invited Keith S. Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, to write March’s Note from the Director.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Approximately 2% of American adults—6 million people—are estimated to have met the criteria for problem gambling in the past year. Like all behavioral health issues, problem gambling is preventable and treatable, and most who seek recovery will achieve it. Recovery support includes self-help groups, like Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon. Gambling addiction is listed in the addictions section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which notes: “Individuals with gambling disorder have high rates of comorbidity with other mental disorders, such as substance use disorders, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.”

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), last year, Americans lost more than $117 billion to gambling, the highest amount of any country in the world. This total does not include unregulated poker, online gambling, or the biggest of them all, sports betting. The National Football League Super Bowl is one of the biggest betting days of the year, with more than $100 million bet legally in Las Vegas and an estimated $4.5 billion bet illegally everywhere—from office pools to offshore Internet sports books. However, nothing rivals the National College Athletic Association basketball tournament for betting. The field of 65 teams in the men’s bracket and the relentless media coverage of Cinderella stories and buzzer beaters leading up to the Final Four is perfectly designed to create excitement and capture interest. March Madness is a moniker that captures well the frenzy of the fans, but also the pathology of the problem gambler. Men in particular are more likely to bet on sports, with wins validating their skills and losses attributed to “bad beats”—which too often lead to doubling up to chase their losses with expectations that they will win it back next time. 

Each week in March, NCPG will focus on a different aspect of gambling addiction. Themes include screening, special populations, and sports gambling. For all of us working on and concerned about behavioral health issues, Problem Gambling Awareness Month is an opportunity to improve client outcomes by integrating gambling addiction into our programs. The hidden addiction of problem gambling may well be a driver of relapse given the extremely high comorbidity with substance use and mental health disorders, which is up to 97% in some studies. Additionally, if a client screens positive for problem gambling, clinicians should make sure to also assess for suicide, as up to 20% of people with severe gambling problems have made a lethal attempt in the past year and rates of serious ideation approach 50% in some studies. Tools, tips, and templates that may be helpful for behavioral health providers are available on the NCPG website.


Keith S. Whyte

Executive Director, NCPG


Stories of Recovery


The following story of recovery is part of the #WeAreRecovery campaign. Submit your story here to be shared on social media for the #WeAreRecovery project, or here for the #WeAreRecoveryAllies campaign. All stories are unique, and yours can inspire others. Your story may be featured in an upcoming issue of BHchat Corner: News You Can Use. If you have questions, email the BHTAC team.

Jenn, from Indianapolis, Indiana, writes: “I had hit rock bottom, waking up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. The doctor that morning changed my life. He told me there was hope. It was as if I had never heard that word before. He told me that no one can change the messages I tell myself but me. He said it was possible to have a great life despite having bipolar disorder. I started a new message. Instead of the usual “I hate life” message that I unconsciously said every day, I sat up in bed first thing every morning and said out loud, "It's going to be a great day." After three months of doing this every morning I realized that it had become my new message. I no longer depended on this morning ritual because it automatically happened without effort. I changed many other negative messages with my newfound inner power and quickly realized that I had the power to totally change my life. Don't get me wrong, life can still be a struggle dealing with mental illness, but most days I am happy. The doctor that morning helped to change my life.” #WeAreRecovery

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Spotlights and Highlights provides important facts about gambling that may not be well understood. 

  1. Although some problem gamblers have financial issues from losing money gambling, the issue behind problem gambling is emotional, not financial. Problem gamblers feel the need to gamble to alleviate stress or because they feel a certain type of euphoria when they gamble.
  2. Gambling is a $40 billion-a-year industry. Las Vegas alone accounts for nearly to $10 billion a year.
  3. Compulsive gambling is not caused by gambling being easily attainable through lotteries, casinos, and race tracks. It is caused by a person’s inability to control gambling habits. Far more people gamble on occasion than there are compulsive gamblers.
  4. Around 80% of the United States population has gambled in their lifetime.
  5. Pathological gamblers are significantly more likely to have mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders.
  6. A research study found that 75% of gamblers had an alcohol disorder, 38% had a drug use disorder, and 60% had a nicotine dependency.
  7. A research study found that 50% of gamblers had experienced a mood disorder, 41.3% had experienced an anxiety disorder, and 60.8% had experienced a personality disorder.
  8. Men are more likely to develop a gambling problem than women.
  9. Among the American population, 3 to 4% has a gambling problem—6 to 8 million people.
  10. Compulsive gambling does not mean that a person is weak. Many problematic gamblers are successful and are seen by others as strong and intelligent people. 
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Last year, the North American State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL) and the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) launched a responsible gaming verification program. Four lotteries were selected for a pilot program—Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia—and all completed the verification program.

The verification process, reviewed by an independent assessment panel, includes eight areas of assessment—research, employee training, retailer training, player education, new/existing product oversight, budget, advertising, and engagement/awareness—and has three levels of verification:

  1. Planning is for lotteries without a robust responsible gambling program. Lotteries submitting an application at this level will have experts critique their plans and help them move towards the next level.
  2. Implementation assesses current programs and results for lotteries with more advanced responsible gambling programs.
  3. Sustaining involves implementation review and verification every three years to ensure ongoing performance.

Seven lotteries have been selected to participate in the next round of the verification program: Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Program guidelines are available here. Questions about this program can be directed to Andrew White at NASPL or Lissa Cobetto at NCPG.

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MoviesBPHope magazine, with its “Hope and Harmony for People with Bipolar Disorder” tagline, provides a wealth of information that individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder and their families will find helpful and uplifting. A recent article highlights nine movies that inspire, inform, and entertain, all featuring a lead character with bipolar disorder. Four of these movies are highlighted below, each with a hotlink to the movie trailer.

The Ghost and the Whale (2016) - This film is the story of Joseph Hawthorne, a man living with bipolar disorder, who went off to sea with the love of his life and returned back to the sleepy town of Bodega alone.

Touched With Fire (2015) – This film offers a hard and gritty look at love, mania, creative inspiration, and making peace with bipolar disorder.

Infinitely Polar Bear (2014) – A father with bipolar disorder tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who do not make the overwhelming task any easier.

Repentance (2013) – In this thriller, a successful author and spiritual advisor takes on a troubled man as a client, completely unaware that the man’s fixation on his mother’s death will soon put his life in jeopardy.

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Latest in Research


MouseAccording to a recent study from the University of British Columbia (UBC), researchers have discovered that rats behaved like problem gamblers when sound and light cues were added to a "rat casino" model. Additionally, researchers found that they could correct this risky behavior by blocking a specific dopamine receptor, which could lay the groundwork for possible treatment of gambling addiction in humans.

In the study, rats who gambled for sugary treats normally learned how to avoid the risky options. But, according to Catharine Winstanley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, this ability changed when flashing lights and sounds were added to the experiment. "It seemed, at the time, like a stupid thing to do, because it didn't seem like adding lights and sound would have much of an impact. But when we ran the study, the effect was enormous.”   She went on to note that "Anyone who's ever designed a casino game or played a gambling game will tell you that of course sound and light cues keep you more engaged, but now we can show it scientifically."

When the scientists gave the rats a drug that blocked the action of a specific dopamine receptor that has been linked to addiction, the rats no longer acted like problem gamblers. But the dopamine blockers had minimal effect on rats who gambled without the flashing lights and sound cues, offering potential treatment options for individuals with gambling addictions in the future. According to lead author Michael Barrus, a Ph.D. candidate in the UBC Department of Psychology, “This brain receptor is also really important to drug addiction, so our findings help support the idea that risky behavior across different vices might have a common biological cause.”

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SherlockIn a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder (UC Boulder), researchers found that when mice with schizophrenic characteristics were given nicotine daily, their sluggish brain activity increased within two days. Within one week it had normalized.

According to Jerry Stitzel, a researcher at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics and one of four UC Boulder researchers on the study, "Basically, the nicotine is compensating for a genetically determined impairment. No one has ever shown that before."

Previous genome-wide association studies have suggested that people with a variation in a gene called CHRNA5 are more likely to have schizophrenia, but the mechanism for that association has remained unclear. People with that variant are also more likely to smoke.

“This defines a completely novel strategy for medication development," says lead author Uwe Maskos, a researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. Early stage research is already under way to develop drugs that act on nicotine receptors.   

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TwitterThe topic of the next Behavioral Health Twitter Chat, at 1 p.m., ET, on March 30, 2017, will be bipolar disorder.

Follow Altarum on Twitter for the latest in behavioral health news and notifications about upcoming discussions. Visit BHTAC for a list of Altarum’s previous Twitter chat guests and Storify to view the full conversations. Also, the Altarum Behavioral Health team is on Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to “like” the pages to stay connected with the behavioral health community.

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Contact Information
Sarah Litton
Manager, Communications and Public Affairs


Altarum Institute's ( mission is to create a better, more sustainable future for all Americans by applying research-based and field-tested solutions that transform our systems of health and health care. Altarum employs over 400 individuals and is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with additional offices in Portland, Maine; Silver Spring, MD; Rockville, MD; and Washington, D.C.