More Resources Needed For Gambling Addiction Research And Education

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.

Is Gambling Addiction Really A Problem?

Research suggests that the majority of households in most developed nations do not have enough savings to pay for even small emergencies, should the need arise. Coupled with this, it is widely understood that we humans experience heightened levels of anxiety and shame when our financial situation is not good.

In such an environment, the levels to which a small, but meaningful, proportion of society plays in games of chance or gambles on sporting events should be a worry to the mental health sector, personal finance sector and government departments.

What Is Gambling Addiction?
There are a range of characteristics that are used to qualify this behaviour. However, the preferred approach of Safer Gaming can be found in this paper: a disorder in which an individual becomes intensely preoccupied with a behaviour that at first provides the desired or appetitive effect but where eventually the long-term disadvantages outweigh the short-term benefits.

Numbers vary, but the numbers of people in developed society that are considered to be either problem or pathological gamblers is estimated to be around 3%.

There are clearly levels at which some harmless entertainment becomes much more than that. For example, research in Australia has suggested that problem gamblers lose an average of AUS$21,000 per year. And that video poker machines cause losses more quickly than most other forms of wagering, suggesting that they are something that you really do not want to become addicted to.

Even though gambling in the United States is illegal, except for under certain circumstances, it is clear that problem gambling is very real. However, in 2013, only 39 States operated publicly funded services related to problem gambling. Amazingly, the total budget for these programs was just US$60.6m for the year, which highlights just how under served this group of society is. The estimated number of problem gamblers in the US was 5.7 million in 2012, which shows just how little progress the allocated budget can be making in terms of help, treatment and solutions. When compared to the tens of billions of dollars that the world’s major gaming firms bank as income each year, these numbers seem even less impressive.

However, these numbers do not take into account other activities that might be classed as gambling. For example, many people describe the stock market as “the world’s greatest casino” and when using high levels of leverage, the risks can be massive.

As data from Ireland suggests, less than 1% of people that need treatment for this disease actually receive it. This statistic lies at the heart of why Safer Gaming was founded.

Even Skill Games Can Pose A Problem
The rise of daily fantasy sports in recent years provides a number of other problems. While the games pitch themselves as being skill based, and the most successful players are clearly very skillful, the majority of their players will not be using the skills required to excel, meaning that for those players, the games become lottery-like. In other words, it is only a skill game if you have those skills.

The recent legal actions in various American states highlighted the scale of fantasy sports players in the country. For example, estimates were made of more than 500,000 players in New York state alone. Player numbers like these will provide a significant number of problem gamblers in future years. Many of whom are in denial about whether they even gamble.

What Is Being Done To Help People?
There are now efforts under way to from other organisations to identify and treat people that suffer from gambling addiction, as well as industry efforts to protect people. While we are sure that everyone agrees that companies having policies to help gamblers is a good thing, more can and should be done.

For example, a recent report relating to gambling machines by the Responsible Gambling Trust investigated ways in which it is possible to protect people that need protection whilst not impacting people that are not in need of those protections. The overall concept that player monitoring should be done in real time will not be pleasant news for the gaming firms, but ought to be a good first step to helping players with real problems.

What Will Safer Gaming Add To This?
It is within this gap that we plan to operate. It has been clear to the founders of Safer Gaming for some time, that operators of all sizes pay too little attention to the needs of their most vulnerable players.

At Safer Gaming we are developing multiple plans to create more research opportunities in universities, improve the environment for funding – from governmental agencies and corporations – for charities and non-governmental groups and to spread the message far and wide that destructive gambling is real, it is a problem and the people that suffer need our care and attention.