I bet your PIG is bigger than mine!

The BBC recently reported that a “Gambling addict with brain injury spent £210,000” and during the subsequent interview, the young man (negatively impacted by his own gambling) told them: “I don’t understand why the companies that have taken large sums of money won’t give me my money back when I’ve joined Gamstop, got proof of a mental health condition and given them evidence of my brain injury” (read more).

For me the article raises a few more questions than it seeks to answer. Such as; is it fair to try and blame individuals or organisations (legally or morally) for what were (probably) your choices, at least initially?

Next, should a gambling business be liable for the return of cash staked on a game of chance, assuming they were operating legally (or ethically)?

Additionally and irrespective of any unseen ‘proof’ that could (in part) support claims around injuries being a causation factor of subsequent gambling; surely those injuries must have occurred prior to the ‘problematic’ gambling activity taking place. Something that isn’t made factually clear in the original article, despite some intimation. And finally, is it reasonable to attributed that gambling to the injuries that were sustained?

Problematic Gambling

I can empathise with the financial and health issues this man is facing, many of which are, undoubtedly as a direct result of excessive gambling. But when examining the mess he finds himself in and asking himself… who is to blame for this? I wonder if he has actually taken a close look inwards… I doubt it?

Online GamblingI could be wrong but, I suspect he’s probably the one at fault here; uncomfortable with shouldering any responsibility for his choices of activity but also, unable to accept the ‘blame’ for the consequences of his actions. Yes, it is a sad situation and uncomfortable set of circumstances in which he finds himself in however; even if someone else was (in part) responsible for his predicament (and I doubt it), how does ‘bleating’ about the situation aid his recovery?

Additionally, will any subsequent media (or political) interest actually change his situation, or indeed for others impacted by addictive behaviours?

Another BBC article suggested; “No one likes to lose – even “pathological gamblers” – but they keep on betting.” The piece went on to explain why people continue to “roll the dice again” after they have lost. But people addicted [sic] to gambling frequently say; “despite losses stacking up, the buzz keeps bringing them back to the card table or slot machine” (see HERE).

I dislike the ‘addict’ label, it’s mostly unhelpful, it perpetuates stigma and provides an opportunity for blame-shifting. And, as a continuum of this digression (and possibly an additional blog post); I suspect most media interest here comes from little more than pandering to people’s inherent societal voyeurism and the resulting political interest? Well that’s mostly self-promotion, the desires of sound-bite populism within a useful PR opportunity. Too cynical? You be the judge.

The Psychology of Gambling

Gambling is an interesting psychological phenomenon (unless you have the shitty end of the stick that is); there has been extensive research on how psychological processes affect gambling behaviors. You could examine 5 interesting gambling phenomena by way of a short example or perhaps take a deeper look at the subject.

The Psychology of Gambling: Gambling is a thriving form of entertainment in the UK, but may also become a form of addiction for some individuals. Just why do people gamble when ‘the house always wins’? Advances in brain imaging techniques are helping Cambridge scientists find out. (Read more – Clark L. BCNI Cambs Uni)

Most people simply gamble for a bit of fun. Many will have little understanding of how gambling actually works, let alone care a jot for the mechanics of that process… until everything goes wrong that is.

Over time, these distorted perceptions of one’s chances of winning may precipitate ‘loss chasing’, where gamblers continue to play in an effort to recoup accumulating debts. Loss chasing is one of the hallmarks of problem gambling, which actually bears much resemblance to drug addiction. (Dr Luke Clark)

It’s not until people experience negative consequences of gambling, that they acknowledge they have a problem. Ones that sadly can be both severe, or even life-threatening in extreme cases. This might appear a little melodramatic but is equally as silly,; some people don’t even understand the simple concept of ‘chance’, let alone get their head around the realities of the gambling industry.

Gambling is taking part in a game during which you risk money, or something of monetary value, in order to win money or a prize. The outcome of the game is usually down to chance, so when gambling you might leave with less money than you started off with, and sometimes with nothing at all. (begambleaware.org)

The Gambling Industry

A clue to the many misconceptions that people hold about the ethics of gambling are those words ‘industry’ and ‘business’ – an industry that isn’t in business to be your personal friendly benefactor. Neither is it a source of cost free extra cash. Their processes not only understand how your mind works but also, work to capitalise on the opportunities presented by that understanding.

A moderate frequency of near-misses encourages prolonged gambling, even in student volunteers who do not gamble on a regular basis. Problem gamblers often interpret near-misses as evidence that they are mastering the game and that a win is on the way. (Dr Luke Clark)

The whole raison d’être of any ‘industry’ is to make profits. The word industry implies a collection of entities and individuals who’s sole aspiration is to make large amounts of money from their customers. With the lucrative nature of their business models, along with the (sometimes) immature or irrational thought processes of gamblers, it’s relatively simple to see why gambling can cause issues.

UK Gambling industry still booming: The gambling industry has enjoyed massive financial growth in the UK during recent times and it is a trend that looks set to continue over the coming years. Read on as we look at some of the main reasons behind the continuing boom in the UK gambling industry. (londonlovesbusiness.com)

To be fair, the gambling industry usually operates within a rigid and legally enforceable framework, which they are mostly compliant with. But when someone’s gambling becomes a problematic behaviour or an addiction, those issues get microscopic examination (again) at least for a short period of time.

Gambling Addiction

There has been much talk about Gambling Addiction which has exposed some flaws in the online self-exclusion scheme (see here). And yes, despite the many “tricky issues” around the regulation and ethics of the industry, there is support available for problematic gamblers (see here). But what thoughts do people have around actually helping themselves? Often precious few.

There are some helpful tools suggested by the UK Gambling Commission (or others), which are designed to help people with their problems. But, our inherent ‘blame culture’ usually wants something or somebody else to take responsibility for our failings.

In addition to an array of psychological factors, problem gambling may also have some important biological determinants. The brain chemical dopamine is known to play a key role in drug addiction and may also be abnormally regulated in problem gambling. (Dr Luke Clark)

Disregarding all the psychological or social pulls and the resulting chemical hooks of the neurological reward process, resulting from from long-term repetitive behaviours; gambling at problematic levels started with the choices you made. But many people also forget that all gambling is a ‘game of chance’ and you chose to take that chance,

Lottery players often prefer a number sequence they have selected themselves, and may refuse to exchange their ticket for several tickets of random numbers. Choice appears to encourage a belief that the game involves skill when in fact the outcome is entirely random. (Dr Luke Clark)

The good thing about all this is; science shows that those original choices can still be reversed, given some effort and time. You chose to gamble, and you can choose to stop. Firstly, as with any addictive behaviour, you need to recognise that you might have an issue – ask yourself – could I be a problem gambler?

Addressing YOUR Issues

If you’ve actually kept reading this far, for personal reasons as opposed to research or general interest, your perseverance and interest may well suggest you have a problem but don’t worry. There is evidence that ‘problem’ gambling can be successfully treated, in the same way as many other addictions. The NHS suggest that “Cognitive behavioural therapy usually has the best results” (see here).

In addictive behavior patterns we see many (negative) symptoms of (poor) decision-making process. Decisions that have fail to take into account any long-term consequences of our actions (Verdejo-Garcia, et al., 2018).

I bet my PIG is Bigger Than Your pig!

In Psychology TodayProf Shahram Heshmat examines the Science of Choice as a Decision-Making Disorder, something that is prominent within addictive behaviours. Today, perhaps more than before even, too many of us are constantly looking for a rush of immediate gratification. Some people appear to be hard-wired to crave those immediate payoffs, and in varying diverse areas of their daily life, regardless of whether or not that desire might be unwise or unhealthy.

Something triggers your craving and your urge for immediate gratification kicks in. Before you know it the PIG is alive and well, and making decisions for you. That’s the problem with constantly allowing yourself immediate gratification (the PIG); the more you feed it the bigger it gets!

Get SMART about Gambling

UK SMART RecoveryThe term time preference is an economic concept that refers to the importance we place on future outcomes relative to current outcomes. In our commercial world of profit margins, where success (or failure) is almost entirely judged in accounting terms alone, it’s also probably a major source of and foundation for most of our hard-wiring.

Stop PIGWithin the concepts of ‘behavioral economics’ in addiction, we can go some way towards explaining why people decide to act against their own well-being.

There are also some answers that help to define those self-defeating behavior patterns but perhaps even more importantly; how people can be motivated to act according to their long-term goals. To move away from their problem of instant gratification (the PIG) and stop feeding their little porker… before it gets a little too big to handle on your own.

The PIG, as with many other areas of addictive behaviour are covered extensively within SMART Recovery. This evidence based programme, uses elements of CBT (as recommended by the NHS) and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), which is another type of CBT that was developed by the American psychologist Albert Ellis in the late 1950’s. Another useful aspect of SMART is how it helps with all manner of addictive behaviours, it helps you to challenge your (mostly) irrational thoughts that direct and drag you towards the problems you face.

Don’t keep holding on to those unrealistic expectations of the ‘big win’ or, keep chasing your losses, irrationally thinking you can beat the ‘system’ and get back on top. You won’t, neither will you ever fix your new problems by application of your old thinking!

Be Gamble Aware

Resources

  • GAMSTOP is an independent service that offers (UK) consumers the choice to exclude from online gambling for periods of 6 months, 1 year or 5 years. Personal details are logged and held by GAMSTOP and each time there is an attempted login or registration using these details the GAMSTOP database is checked.
  • Tips for Safer Gambling: the first thing for any problematic behaviour is Stay in Control of You… easier said than done and, if it was easy, you possibly wouldn’t be reading this.
  • UK SMART Recovery: provides self-help resources, online training and mutual-aid meetings to address the issues resulting from any form of addictive behaviour. This science-based programme of tools and methods is based upon CBT methods. It is part of a clinically recognised and nationally recommended world-wide network.
  • Self-exclusion is a facility for those that have decided that they wish to stop gambling for at least six months and wish to be supported in their decision to stop. (via gamblingcommission.gov.uk)
  • Getting Help & Support: gambling can and too often does lead to problems for some individuals and their families. More information about available support can be found HERE.
  • More information about responsible gambling, including how to access confidential support and advice, is available via the BeGambleAware website at www.begambleaware.org
  • Practical Psychology provides high-quality and informative videos, for everyone who want to learn about psychology. Their video about the 12 Cognitive Biases could help you to think more logically by removing bias.
  • Cognitive process in gambling is an important factor and you might like to watch videos about The Gambler’s Fallacy.
  • An interesting article about how – Psychology Explains the Hidden Reasons Gambling Hooks the Brain – can be found HERE.
  • 10 Causes of Decision-Making Failures in Addiction, Shahram Heshmat PhD, The Science of Choice (psychologytoday.com)
  • 10 Reasons We Rush for Immediate Gratification, Shahram Heshmat PhD, The Science of Choice (psychologytoday.com)
  • Addiction: A Behavioral Economic Perspective: focuses on the behavioral economics of addiction to explain why someone decides to act against their own well-being. (Available at amazon.co.uk)

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