Many people enjoy social gambling in Australia. Although they may hope to win, the underlying expectancy is to lose and consequently, the expenditure is limited and control maintained over the gambling behaviour. However, the problem gambler is unable to walk away from gambling activity, no matter how devastating the results may become.
It is estimated that over 1 in 50 people in Australia are problem gamblers and as most of those have families, the effect of problem gambling in the general population, is at least double that figure.The American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-1V), defines a pathological or problem gambler as someone who has a chronic and progressive failure to resist impulses to gamble, even when it damages or compromises family, personal and vocational pursuits.The three basic features of problem gambling are:
- Gambling to excess
- Failure to control gambling
- Adverse lifestyle impacts
Other associated features may include:
- Distortions in thinking- a belief that gambling is an investment of time and skill
- Substance abuse- drugs, alcohol
- Personality or mood disorders
- Highly competitive, restless and easily bored
- Chronic high levels of stress/anxiety
Problem gambling often appears in early adolescence in males but later in life with females. There have been many theories as to the reasons why some people become problem gamblers, from the pre-20th Century thinking that it was a character defect, a sign of mania (Psychoanalytical theory), an addiction (the DSM-1V criteria) or an escape from psychological pain (John Gray 1990).
Most gambling counsellors regard problem gamblers as having a combination of predisposing factors. It is ” A dependant state acquired over time by a predisposed person to relieve chronic stress.” (Jacobs 1986). A predisposed person may have some or all the following factors:
- A less than optimal nurturing psychological development which leads to limiting self beliefs. Often a major trauma occurs early in their life.
- Physiologically, long term abnormal fluctuations of their autonomic nervous system, meaning that they lose the middle way of dealing with stress and become predisposed to addictions to cope.
- A chance stress reduction event occurs in their life, e.g. gambling and winning, which maintains addictive patterns.
In effect, gambling for many problem gamblers, is the only means of reducing intolerably high levels of chronic stress, depression, boredom and loneliness. It is a way to escape or dissociate. There is a cycle of problem gambling, which is a closed system and will not change once it has been established, without help and the impact of it on the individual and their family becomes progressively worse over time. In extreme cases, criminal activity or suicidal ideation are also common features.
Gambling behaviour can be changed provided that people genuinely wish to and they learn strategies to change that behaviour, through a trained counsellor. Counselling is also often necessary for the partners and families of problem gamblers.
Some facts about gambling*:
- Out of every $100 invested with the tab or on a poker machine, only $87 (at best) is returned.
- With bookmakers between $90 and $95 is returned.
- A problem gambler, on average, loses about $12,000 each year, compared to other gamblers who lose about $600 per year.
- The most addictive form of gambling is poker machines.
- NSW has over ½ of the poker machines in australia and 1/10 th of the poker machines in the world.
* sourced from the Illawarra Community Health Service Problem Gambling Facilitators Manual