Identifying the most addictive types of gambling isn’t just a pastime for academics and addiction therapists – it is a question asked very seriously by clever people in large gambling corporations whose business model requires them to find the right answer. People with gambling disorders would do well to understand their methods and take avoiding action, even if they cannot stop their gambling activity outright.
The Nature of Gambling Activity
Like substance abuse, gambling comes in many variations such as slot machines lotteries based on chance, and card games like poker and blackjack, where skill is a factor. The internet has made gambling at the touch of a button available to most people in the world and as a result, there has been a huge increase in gambling disorders. When a major problem like that arises, the more we understand it, the better.
Understanding Addictive Gambling
Gambling gives some people a thrill they want more and more. For others, it gives relief from real problems. For others again, it just gives a good feeling – that they are winners and here is something they can control (even if the opposite is true). Whatever the reason, gambling activity has increased exponentially, in line with the boom in digital communication. For example, in 1948 around 70k watched the Grand National, Britain’s most famous horse race, by visiting the course at Aintree, Liverpool while perhaps a million listened on the radio. In recent years, audiences of 600 million are regularly recorded for the race, thanks to tv and the internet. Many will place bets and some will bet compulsively. Gambling addiction is thought to affect between 0.2% and 0.3% of the population meaning that worldwide there could be 15 million addicts.
What Makes Gambling so Addictive?
Gambling activates the brain’s reward system in the same way that substance abuse does, resulting in a ‘high’. When repeated regularly, the brain craves this more and more, leading to psychological dependence. Gambling feeds on our impulsiveness, escapism, pleasure-seeking, and need for excitement on demand. As if this wasn’t enough, gambling operators now use electronic gaming machines (EGM’s), or virtual gaming via the internet, to enhance addictiveness and keep the punter playing. They do so with alluring colors, flashing lights, encouraging music, and slogans such as ‘go get’em!’ as well as endless repetition.
Are Some Forms More Addictive Than Others?
In the case of substance abuse, some substances are commonly regarded as more addictive than others – crack cocaine or IV heroin for example are thought to set up a compulsion more powerful than say, an ecstasy pill. This is also true for gambling. Research has shown that electronic forms of gambling (usually via the internet), such as EGM’s and virtual casino games are more addictive than for example, buying a lottery ticket. Unsurprisingly, continuous games with high reward frequency are more likely to be addictive than discontinuous and slow activities.
The Financial Cost of Gambling
There is a monetary cost involved with most addictions. One person’s compulsion is another’s profit – the drug dealer, the vodka distiller, or the porn star, for example, all do well from it, as we know. But the terrible price the addicted gambler pays is particularly brutal. Gambling is now a very big business, much of it run by companies with stock market listings who are dedicated to maximizing profits for their shareholders. Of course, they want to know which activities are the most addictive. Despite pious statements about responsible gambling, their business is to make money. Take the well-known professional golfer John Daly as an example: Daly gambles a lot. He once lost more than $1.5 million in 5 hours playing slot machines. He is said to have lost around $50 million through his gambling activities. Casinos very much want to make sure they know what makes him and people like him, keep coming back. Why would they not?
Why Gambling Is an Especially Serious Problem
The problems of gambling addiction are especially grave for a number of reasons:
- It is easy to gamble. Little physical effort is required. All you need is a mobile phone and a bank card. People who would never go to a betting shop – mothers with small children or bored office workers can easily find themselves hooked. – Children and teens can be drawn into it through video gaming features such as loot boxes.
- It requires no illegal activity unless a person is underage
- Physical signs of gambling are hard to detect unlike say, substance abuse
- The consequences of financial loss can be swift and devastating. There are more suicides from gambling than any other addiction.
The Rise in Internet Gambling
Gambling is a transaction – a wager between a punter and the ‘house’ which sets the odds on the likelihood of the chances of winning. Such transactions are ideally suited to the internet. In bygone days, people needed to go to sporting venues to bet because gambling was strictly controlled of course (though much illegal betting took place in the back rooms of pubs and the like). But now gambling has gone global, making it difficult to regulate. A lot of internet gambling is based in relatively obscure places like Gibraltar, Malta, and Macau.
It’s Easy to Gamble
Gambling does not involve activities that directly damage the body (such as those found with substance abuse). Provided they have a bank or credit card, addicted people can sometimes continue gambling (or video gaming) for several days without stopping until they eventually succumb to complete exhaustion. There are recorded instances of people found dead in internet cafes after gaming and gambling for days at a time and there are even special diapers available to gamblers that enable them to avoid a bathroom break for up to 12 hours.
It’s Similar to Substance Abuse in Many Ways Research shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many symptoms. Increased tolerance of hits in order to get high are matched by ever-riskier bets for gamblers; withdrawal symptoms when unable to access the substance or thrill of choice, obsessive thinking about the activity, and a willingness to pursue it regardless of other needs or consequences.
How the Internet Opened the Floodgates
Gambling has been around for centuries and for a long time was controlled in part by parameters of time and place -it takes time to organise a horse race, a lottery or a football match and casinos need procedures and equipment. It was often difficult for compulsive gamblers to find opportunities to indulge their obsession as readily and as often as they desired. Virtual reality in the 21st century has changed all that, so now punters can bet on their game of choice 24/7, unconstrained by the need to travel, handle cash or wait for an event to start.
How the Big Companies Enhance the Gambling Experience
Those big gambling organizations quickly realized that instant gratification accompanied by alluring graphics and encouraging sounds was what the punters wanted and virtual reality was the vehicle to provide it.
What to Do if You Can’t Quit and Keep Relapsing
For anyone with a gambling disorder, and in the UK that could be over one million people according to YouGov researchers, the goal must be to cease gambling altogether. Addiction of any kind does not allow for compromise. If you struggle with gambling and want to stop but keep relapsing, then here are some steps you can take to minimize the possible damage:
- Understand that the most addictive gambling activities are obviously the most dangerous and destructive.
- Assess your gambling honestly – which type of gambling is the most addictive for you? Try to avoid at least that one.
- Only use cash. The most important thing you can do is hand control of your banking and credit cards to another person.
- Only gamble in person, not via computer.
- Block all gambling sites from your computer, just in case you get tempted.
- Only gamble on events that happen at set times, such as lotteries or horse races rather than continuous, repetitive activities such as gaming machines.
- Attend Gamblers Anonymous regularly, even if you are struggling and keep relapsing.
- Communicate -if you can’t talk to the family, there are organizations such as Samaritans there to listen. Use them. Isolation leads to deterioration in mental health with serious consequences.
Treatment for Gambling Disorders
It is hard to overcome any compulsive disorder on your own. Seeking professional treatment is not a sign of weakness but a sensible course of action. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about gambling or any kind of addiction. They will be able to refer you to appropriate healthcare resources, including perhaps, residential treatment. At Castle Craig Hospital we treat a large number of people with gambling and gaming problems which are sometimes present with other disorders.
We are always ready to discuss your best options.
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