The issue of problem gambling has been on a gradual rise within Europe, with online gambling’s popularity spanning across at least 6.8 million consumers within the EU. Despite this growing matter, however, there remains a severe lack in the availability of addiction counselling courses across European universities specifically targeted at problem gambling.
Indeed, the focus appears to be aimed primarily on substance abuse addictions while directing far less attention towards behavioural addictions. The great majority of courses centred on addiction studies across Europe such as in Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, if offered at all, are almost entirely focused on the nature of drug use and alcohol addiction. Even in our home country, the University of Malta also does not offer a master’s degree specifically for addiction studies, limited only to the study of addictive behaviour in general within the psychology undergraduate course.
As of yet, gambling is still a new, developing field of education and research. There may be an increased level of research being carried out on a global level for problem gambling, however there is much less exploration into the social and economic impacts it brings with it, in addition to a severe lack of research into the role of problem gambling in public policy and its implications on public health. This may eventually contribute to the continued rise of problem gambling, where problem gamblers are unable to find help or are unwilling to seek it out due to a lack of awareness about specific treatments as well as a lack of professionals who are able nor even capable of helping them.
The negative impact of problem gambling manifests in various areas of a person’s life, specifically with regards to their health, their finances and their social relationships. Moreover, the psychiatric co-morbidities associated with problem gambling include anxiety, depression and potentially any sort of substance dependence.
The results of treatment for problem gambling appear to be far less successful than those of the substance abuse treatments. One reason to explain this may be the lack of pharmacological treatment to prevent the occurrence of relapse that is in fact present in treatment programs for drug addicts and alcoholics. There is no pharmacological treatment to prevent someone from indulging in online gambling or visiting locations, such as casinos, where gambling takes place. Therefore, the main purpose of treatment is to eliminate the overwhelming craving of wanting to be in a state of gambling trance, to aid the addict in recovering control over their own emotions and actions in order to stabilize their mood swings and psychological state.
In order for there to be an increased level of awareness regarding the severity of the issue, educational institutions must be the ones to take an initiative in addressing behavioural addictions within the study of psychology and therapy, on equal terms with substance abuse addictions. This will encourage more people to see the behaviour as the harmful addiction that it is as opposed to perpetuating the notion that it is no more than a recreational habit.
It is imperative that more focus is directed in particular towards problem gambling in order to eliminate the issue of lacking resources and provide sufferers access to specifically tailored counselling that can provide a safe environment for them when they seek help.
Social and health care professionals require information training in order to develop a more specialized and differentiated form of treatment for problem gamblers. Educational institutions must therefore work hand in hand with public policy in order to build the adequate form of therapy and help that is effective and may be offered on a more widespread level across Europe in light of the growing problem.