Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A first step to overcoming addiction



SOON after they held their customary wedding ceremony four years ago, the hongbao (red packet) money that they had been given went missing.

That's when she had her first suspicions about her husband's gambling addiction.

Since then, the 41-year-old crane operator has "relapsed" twice from counselling. Altogether, he has incurred a debt of at least $100,000.

So when the opportunity to bar him from entering the casinos at the integrated resorts came up, Mdm Tan (not her real name) took it.

"(His gambling addiction) is not easy to handle, it's a long process. That's why I decided to apply for the exclusion order," she said yesterday in a phone interview.

Mdm Tan, also 41, and her husband are one of the seven families granted a family exclusion order - one of three types of exclusion orders - by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). The order allows a family to seek help to curb a problem gambler's behaviour and bars the addict from entering the casinos.

The other two orders, self-exclusion and third-party exclusion, will be implemented later.

Mdm Tan knew her husband had been gambling since his teenage years, but thought he was "just a social gambler". Her husband knows all types of gambling "but it's soccer betting that got him into trouble", she said.

She only noticed things were amiss about three to four years ago, when they seemed to be in financial difficulties.

"We don't have children, and we're both working. So we shouldn't have ended up in this state," she said.

It was then that the office administrator found out about his $50,000 credit card debt and loans which he had taken from his insurance policy and from his company. Checks on her husband's mobile phone turned up text messages on betting tips.

Often "black-faced" and "depressed", he would also wake up in the middle of the night to access online betting sites.

They quarrelled when she confronted him, but he finally agreed to seek help.

He knew "his mistakes" and would have agreed to a divorce had she asked him for one. But Mdm Tan decided to give him another chance.

The couple went for marriage counselling but stopped after a few months. Almost a year later, her husband went back to gambling and racked up another $50,000 in debt in four months.

This time round, they turned to gambling addiction counselling. But after about "a year plus, he relapsed again", said Mdm Tan.

Spotting a Giro application form for betting with Singapore Pools that had been mailed to him, Mdm Tan "immediately talked to him and tried to understand (his struggles)". Counselling has taught her that her husband "needed time to cut off the habit".

While the couple had quarrelled frequently and "almost wanted to separate a few times", the silver lining this struggle is her husband's willingness to change, she said.

Their families and most of their friends are unaware of the couple's situation. Only her brother-in-law is aware of his brother's addiction, and attends counselling sessions with them.

Their counsellor has also advised Mdm Tan's husband to tell his gambling buddies of his problem.

For now, Mdm Tan continues to cut out soccer news from the newspapers and asks him to leave a party if she sees his friends gambling.

"So far, so good," she said.

The application process

Madam Tan was granted the family exclusion order at the end of August, after waiting for about two months.

Her counsellor at Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre prepared the report and submitted it to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) secretariat.

"They (NCPG) called me and sent me a letter to ask me to go down and sign documents," she recalled.

She was initially told she may have to attend a hearing - where a committee of assessors will decide whether to issue a family exclusion order - but because her husband agreed to the exclusion, the hearing was not needed.

"So he signed (the documents) and we sent it back (by mail) … After that, they sent us the exclusion order."

The order can only be revoked after a minimum of one year. The NCPG will review the case and decide if it should be revoked. ALICIA WONG

From TODAY, News – Wednesday, 23-Sep-2009

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Siren used as ring tone

Letter from Vasan S

I REFER to the letter "Time to silence phones, game consoles and headsets on trains" by Mr Sam Ang (Sept 2).

I would agree with Mr Ang on the disturbance from the headsets and, at the same time, would like to highlight the use of weird ring tones by some people.

While I was travelling on the North East Line the other day, I observed a student using an emergency tone similar to the ambulance and police siren as his ring tone.

Unfortunately, he received at least two calls during my trip. I could see that the people around him looked worried each time his phone rang.

One of the passengers later spoke to the student about his use of the siren as a ring tone but it was no use.

Should we allow the use of the emergency siren as a ring tone?

From TODAY, Voices – Wednesday, 02-Sep-2009

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Time to silence phones, game consoles and headsets on trains

A C651 train approaching Jurong East MRT Station.Image via Wikipedia

Letter from Sam Ang

THE SMRT has taken action against commuters eating and drinking on MRT trains. However a more annoying and pervasive daily problem is not about eating and drinking.

When I take the train to work in the morning, it is very common to hear irritating noises and music coming from electronic gadgets like handphones and handheld game consoles.

There are those who listen to music so loud that all those around them are forced to listen to it. The bigger audio headsets often give off loud noises and these should be banned. The worst scenario is to be seated next to someone wearing them.

Ring tones, too, can be loud but at least telephones do not ring all the time. On the other hand, one can be sitting near or next to a someone listening to music that is blasting away non-stop for half-an-hour or more.

As in the case of eating or drinking on the trains, most of this noise comes from teenagers and young adults.

This problem is getting worse because the culprits have been getting away with it. It is time the SMRT takes strong action to stop this nuisance. The culprits should be fined because, as in case of eating and drinking, warning them is not good enough.

Everyone would like to sit in a quiet train in the morning and concentrate on the day's work ahead.

From TODAY, Voices – Wednesday, 02-Sep-2009

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Build character as well as a living

Letter from Benjamin Gan

I REFER to "All of us are guilty sometimes" (Sept 1).

Mr Wilson Lim's remark that "people here tend to mind their own business to avoid unnecessary trouble" is truly indicative of the mindset of the average Singaporean, a mindset that seems codified into our genes, reinforced and refined through generations in the name of survival.

And what is even more remarkable is that our society has progressed beyond the state of survival. We do not need to steal or kill for our food and we are comfortably sheltered from the wrath of nature.

I marvel at how this mindset could have flourished in the midst of our economic progress. My only sad conclusion is that our social development has been woefullly neglected in favour of economic development. I think it is time we get back to basics by revamping our education system to include ethics and social studies in the curriculum. Education is not just about grades and good jobs. It is about building character.

From TODAY, Voices – Wednesday, 02-Sep-2009

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