Gambling Addiction – Awareness

People who have become addicted to gambling, as with other addictions, often have a genetic predisposition towards addition generally.  Others succumb to the addiction because of the pleasure rush they experience from both winning and the irresistible prospect of eventually winning. Like most addictions, gambling addiction is a state where ordinary people continue a certain behaviour to an extent where it becomes harmful because they are unable to stop.  Just like alcohol consumption or any addiction, some levels of gambling can be perfectly enjoyable and socially acceptable.   It’s the excess gambling that leads to addiction   As with alcohol usage disorders, the winning pleasure rush of gambling (often to alleviate feelings of boredom, depression, anxiety stress, loneliness, etc.) can be about  sustaining that feeling of euphoria for pleasure (instant gratification) or fear of returning to their previous mental illness state.  This fear and pleasure combination is often the key driver to excessive gambling and its continuance; past the normal state when others would stop. 

On-line sports betting has been the main contributor to the explosion of gambling addiction.   On-line betting agencies attract 60% of Australian’s gambling each week.  One in five of these admit they regularly engage in on-line betting activities.

The breakdown of gambling in Australia is as follows:-

  • Buying a lottery ticket is the most prevalent form of gambling (52%),
  • followed by pokie machines (20%),
  • horse racing (19%),
  • on-line betting on sports matches (18%) and
  • gambling at casinos (14%).  

Not all of the above gamblers are addicted to gambling. Men are more likely to be addicted than women.  Pokies remain the single biggest harmful gambling addiction. The addictive gambler needs to experience that feeling of winning.   It’s wired into their brain.  Its a mental health issues.   They also obtain pleasure from the mere prospect of winning on the next throw of the dice, pull of the leaver, and turn of a card that satisfying the beast becomes irresistible.  Normal gamblers do not derive the extent of pleasure from the prospect of winning as does a person addicted to gambling.  In much the same way, once the drinking of alcohol has begun for an alcoholic, the normal call in the brain to stop drinking, when it is normally appropriate, does not occur.   This is replaced with an irresistible call to keep winning/drinking which will not go away.   Despite being aware of all the damage such behaviour causes, those with an addiction are powerless to stop their addictive behaviour continuing.   There is no desire to return to the normal real world (RW).  The need to keep going cannot be turned off.   In other words, the alcoholic and gambler addict have lost control of their own life. Once the pleasure from gambling reaches their brain it remains in control and if left untreated eventually destroys their life.   The only things that typically stops an addict is when they either run out of money, pass-out or have the access to the source (alcohol/gambling) taken away, all of which typically goes to make them angry and sometimes to become uncontrollably violent. 

According to the Australian Productivity Commission (2010) “Gambling Productivity Commission Inquiry Report”, the defining point where ordinary people consider themselves to be addicted to gambling varies.   Some remain in denial indefinitely while others come to the realisation from family and friends, some have this made known to them during counselling and some through self-realisation.   Problem gamblers typically experience that dangerous corruption of their capacity to manage money effectively, to act responsibly towards those upon whom they are financially dependent. They also tend to lose their friends, abandon family in that endless pursuit for that win that will save them.  

A person affected by gambling addiction typically exhibit some, if not all, of the following symptoms:-

  • Regularly gambling more money than originally intended, or losing control over the amounts gambled.
  • Losing control over the amount of time spent gambling.
  • Incurring debts to gamble.
  • Hoping and playing for the “big win” to solve the debts created by gambling.
  • Inability to stop gambling altogether.
  • Depression, sadness or moodiness as a result of not being able to gamble.
  • Boasting about winning to relive the excitement whilst denying or playing down losses which may, in fact, exceed the winnings.
  • Gambling in preference to other social events.
  • Neglecting friends, family and work to gamble.
  • Lying about gambling to hide losses.

According to Professor Delfabbro from Adelaide University (2010), Australians spend over $18 billion per annum on all forms of gambling, averaging around $1,500 per person.    Probably the biggest single day of gambling is Melbourne Cup Day; a public holiday in the state of Victoria created because of a single horse race.   Not surprisingly, the $1,500 annual average is considerably high compared to other countries such as New Zealand ($495 per person), Canada ($393 per person) and USA ($1,325 per person).  There are between 80,000 – 160,000 Australian adults suffering significant problems from their gambling (0.5 – 1.0 % of adults), with a further 230,000 –   350 000 experiencing moderate risks that may make them vulnerable to problem gambling (1.4 – 2.1percent of adults). Tax revenue from gambling in 2008-09 was $5 billion (or 10% of all state tax revenue).   This in itself is a problem, as governments are less inclined to address problem gambling for fear of a loss in such a large revenue stream and the potential backlash (in votes/donations withdrawals) from all gamblers’ and associated lobby groups’ threats.  Gambling is one big cash cow!

Since 1956, with the introduction of Electronic gaming machines (EGMs) into NSW (mainly poker machines), gambling in Australian has grown significantly.   Such machines account for over 60% of total gambling revenue, with an additional 15% on wagering and 7% on table games (like roulette & black-jack).  In 2009 there were 198,300 machines in Australia; with 97,000 in NSW alone.   Annual revenue was around $59,700 per machine from Australians putting $10.5 bill into these machines.   Problem gamblers account for 40% of poker machine takings, with losses per player averaging around $3,700/year.   The social cost of problem gambling is estimated to be around $4.7 bill per year.  These costs arise from problems associated with suicide, depression, relationship breakdowns, lower worker productivity, job loss, bankruptcy,  crime, etc.  For every problem gambler up to 10 family members are also seriously affected as a result of their addiction (partners, children, friends, colleagues, etc). 

One survey revealed that, those self-inflicted with an addiction to gambling and who sought counselling, 43% reported having been diagnosed with anxiety (55%), with depression (29%) and 19% with other drug related addictions.   Again conclusive evidence that gambling addiction is also associated with mental health problems. 

Unlike smoking and alcohol addiction which involves physical consumption, gambling addiction involves a slightly different mindset which is worthy of further consideration.  The act of gambling does not involve physical human consumption.  It’s an activity devoid of physical consumption unlike drug addiction, eating addiction, etc.  Some recent behavioural studies conducted by Dr. Simon Dymond from Swansea University in UK are interesting because his research into the addictive behaviour of gambling showed unique responses in the theta brain waves or ordinary people during the act of winning and losing.   What is unique to the gambling addict is how they are stimulated more by the “almost winning” theta waves of the brain; far more than ordinary people where gambling isn’t an addiction.

Simon compared the brains of people with a gambling addiction to that of normal gamblers using two techniques:-

  • f(functional)MRI scans to show which parts of the brain are especially active at any given moment and
  • MEG probes to measure the electrical nature of the gambling activity

Together the fMRI & MEG results enabled the mapping of each’s brain as they engaged in gambling activities (namely playing Poker Machines).   The focus was on the 4-7 hertz range which is known to be related to winning and losing experiences, not only with just gambling but other similar activities in life (eg. like sitting for an exam).

Being all gamblers, every person showed high theta responses (both pathological gamblers – addicts and non-gamblers), except in part of the brain called the right orbito-frontal cortex.  Those addicted to gambling showed spikes of 27-32% whether they won or lost.  Whereas the non-addicts recorded the same spike when they won but only 13% when the lost (or even nearly won).  The conclusion was that it’s the addictive mindset of pathological gamblers that get the same exhilaration in “nearly winning” to when the “actually win” which contributes to their addictive behaviour as gamblers.   Yet again further proof that the real root cause of addictive gambling behaviour is associated with the mind, as no physical consumption of substances are involved.   When we ignore this mental aspect of the problem solution (through a pre–occupation with legislative, technological or mechanical type solutions designed to solve the problem), we are unlikely to solve the real problem – the mindset of an addictive gambler.      

Rather than take another 50 years to bring about an effective mindset shift in Australia (as was the case in the fight against smoking), potentially similar problems should be capable of being solved a whole lot fast and more effectively through the power of a social network platform (like “Yourself Helper”).   A utility that that takes one an effective journey of self-transformation journey that enables oneself to re-invent themselves by bringing about a shift in the brain’s mindset.  Volumes of research illustrate that there are many and varied ways for rewiring the brain. Take the simple example of the every-day act of an ordinary person driving.  If a person were to drive a car where each time they turned the steering wheel to the left (anti-clock-wide) the car would instead turn to the right, initially they would find it virtually impossible to drive such a car.  However, after 3-4 careful circuits of a racing track, it is possible to rewire our brain to drive such a car, getting better each circuit complete.  Same applies driving on the opposite side of the road.   It just takes yourself time and effort.

Australia has many other serious cultural and social problems, all of which continue unabated and continue to worsen. All will be seen to be associated with certain mindset imbalances.   As with all such big hard self-induced problems, there are massive consequences for both the ordinary people involved and our society as a whole if these problems are allowed to persist.   These are not new problems and there has been plenty of time for Government to solve these problems; but they admit they cannot solve them.  Government has abdicated responsibility for these problems to ordinary people and society without indicating how these big hard social problems should be solved.  . Government do not have the political will nor ability to solve such complex problems.   They struggle to solve their own flawed democratic processes, which they stew in every day.   Without a viable platform for achieving a more balanced mindset shifts and collectives in society better supporting ordinary people with these afflictions, these big hard problems will continue to persist and worsen unabated as they have done for years.  Fortunately we do have a few success stories from which to know what success looks like; it’s just that they take so long, so much energy and costs so much to achieve an effective solution.  We have also seen how social network applications have been successful in being to contribute to the solutions of these types of issues, so why could not the same style of platform also be used to contribute towards solving of our many big hard social problems?

 In taking the next “Awakening” step, you begin to consider your unique situation in regard to your association with gambling and whether it has reached or nearing a point of being an addiction.   You will initially be invited to answer some common questions and issues raised on the gambling issue and be encouraged to identify with your specific situation.   Finally the questioning turns to the more important question of yourself as a social creature living in a fuzzy world of relationships with others, inextricably linking us to others – in our family, in our community, in our society and to even our spiritual connections.  Gambling in Australia remains one of our most serious social issues, especially with it often being associated with our passion for all sorts of sports – football, horse racing, cricket, etc.  and entertainment  – casinos, clubs, pubs, bars, games etc.   On Melbourne Cup day it is estimated that nearby 50% of the population has a bet, with the majority its the one and only day they bet.   In which case it is most unlikely they have a problem with gambling.   our aging population, need for tax reform, end of our mining boom, difficulties in creating new employment opportunities, welfare spending, budget-deficits, etc.  But those that do, often have an addiction to poker machines, horse racing, many forms of gambling, like card poker, roulette, black-jack, etc.  

Simply “click” on the Gambling Addiction “Awakening” button below to take the next step in your self-transformation journey.  Even if you already know that you do not have a gambling problem, chances are that you could be a much sought after candidate as a possible volunteer for helping and caring for others that do have a gambling problem who do need help in finding support with their addiction.  Better still, if you are an expert in this field you may be interested in updating or even owning the above layman and non-professional version of this Gambling Addiction “Awareness” material that follows.   


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