GAMBLING, BETWEEN FRAGILITY AND SOLITUDE OF THE PATHOLOGICAL PLAYER
To speak of an evil of our times is wrong when it comes to gambling addiction, since it is a phenomenon that develops far back in time. Thanks to the WHO policies, ludopathy has been recognized as a pathology: it is, more specifically, a behavioral disorder that the APA (American Psychiatric Association) has inserted in the disorders that concern impulse control, very similar to obsessive-compulsive and addictive.
People who suffer from ludopathy show a total loss of control towards the game. All this stems from cognitive distortions with respect to the illusion of being able to control the situation by stopping playing at any time; or to the idea that following an atypical event one can verify what he strongly desires (quasi-magical thought); development of behavioral stereotypes such as buying a lottery ticket in the same place to increase the odds of winning; belief that if there are winnings sooner or later it will happen to him too; finally, among the cognitive distortions we also have the tendency to detect only positive experiences and not take into account negative ones even if they are higher in percentage.
Falling back in the same error is immediate for pathological players because the desire to play, the beliefs of the compulsive player and the theories that he develops deeply distort the sense of reality, so much so as to always lead them to implement the same behavior against everything and everyone . Constant thoughts towards the game to satisfy the need for excitement through higher and higher money bets. These are the characteristics according to which psychiatrists believe that unfavorable biological, genetic and environmental factors are involved in the correlation between gambling and addiction. The term “risk factors” refers to those variables which, by increasing, can lead to ludopathy.
Gambling addiction is often related to anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, but also alcoholism or drug abuse. In some cases a correlation has been found between taking drugs for the treatment of Parkinson’s and developing a gambling addiction. In fact, these drugs (dopamine antagonists) can cause compulsive side effects, which is gambling. Young age, gender (more women than men), familiarity with gamblers or drug addicts, hyperactivity, overestimation of one’s abilities, ease of getting bored, competitive temperament, strong dependence on work; all characteristics that we can find in those who suffer from ludopathy or can develop this disorder.
The vision of sport has gone from competitive or amateur practice aimed at psychophysical well-being to an area in which from an early age you have to test yourself through challenges and victories; competition is experienced as an absolute value. In this cross-section is inserted the activity of betting on everything, which strongly attracts pathological players. Furthermore, the development of increasingly aggressive and incisive marketing campaigns, although conveyed by messages such as: “play responsibly”, certainly does not keep away those who have a gambling addiction, but rather attracts them strongly with the idea of being able to change their life with ever increasing winnings.
Gambling has accompanied the history of man since the development of those cognitive skills that underlie this practice. It has always had a strong impact on society, also playing a significant social role, despite the fact that it has been and is subject to numerous prohibitions, moral accusations and various obstacles. At the basis of gambling there is certainly the search for strong emotions that arise from experimenting with risk. The hope of change following a stroke of luck favors the action of playing; the desire to escape, to escape from a life that does not satisfy, frustrating, for a whole series of problems do nothing but push towards a world of illusions. New custom phenomena are born, new behaviors and new mental attitudes related to the game; we gather outside the betting rooms to play, following rituals now all equal to themselves even in different places and areas. Here the game loses that characteristic of growth mechanism, of comparison, of creative force which favors the freedom of individuals and becomes compulsion, almost a compulsion against which the gambler cannot rebel.
The fact that gambling is a hen with golden eggs for the market, thanks to which public and private companies, both legal and otherwise, are enriched, certainly does not facilitate the treatment and disappearance of gambling disease. Aggressive and illusory advertising, continuous development of new forms of gaming, legislation with different ambiguities in the granting of authorizations.
In the common vision of gambling there is the image of people sitting at a game table full of chips that smoke, win and between a glass of Scotch and another they have fun. But in reality there is much more: the player sitting in front of the electronic slot machine, who like an automaton presses on the keys, hypnotized, alone and that evokes a deep sadness, an image that totally differs from the playful world and that totally deviates from what advertising wants to pass. The “easy win” that the media offer, of people who manage to solve their problems thanks to winnings from the state-sponsored game, leads people to be attracted more than to get away from it, because there is no perception of addiction that this practice can generate going to affect life improvement desires and frustrations. An advertisement that we find everywhere, which acts on everyone (adults, young people and children) indiscriminately because it is offered on TV and radio in all time slots.
Furthermore, the continuous invention of new forms of play means that the number of players increases and the pathology is implemented; scratch cards, slot machines, VLT, more and more ways to mechanically approach the game, without mental commitment, and this is exactly what deceives, there is no need to “think”, you scratch, you pull a lever, you push a button and you fall into the abyss; among other things, being legalized, they are found everywhere. To this is added the phenomenon of online gaming for which it is difficult to perceive the value of the money invested and lost because materially they do not exist in the player’s hands.
The gambling symptomatology has several characteristics. Psychic symptoms include obsession with gambling, a sense of omnipotence, alterations of mood and self-esteem; just as impulsiveness, guilt, superstition, etc. are strong.
Social symptoms also have a strong impact on ludopathy; in fact, in addition to the economic damage that a person with a gambling addiction can face, there are certainly problems at a family and work level, there is also a strong tendency to isolate himself.
Finally, physical symptoms present a certain degree of importance. Among these we find: eating disorders, headache, tremors, palpitations, etc.
What is most worrying today besides the spread of gambling addiction is how much the age of those approaching gambling or legal gambling is getting lower. In fact, many teenagers approach the game and get caught up in an addiction because of the constant search for risk, adventure, self-affirmation. The use of gambling among teenagers is becoming increasingly worrying despite the fact that it is prohibited for minors. But it’s not difficult to get around access, especially with online gaming or with the complacency of unscrupulous adults. In addition, the will of teenagers to transgress and the idea of getting rich leads them to always look for new ways to test themselves. Behind these teenagers we often find parents who can’t say no;
Ultimately we can say that we are facing an emergency that shows no sign of diminishing. This is a problem towards which we need multidisciplinary approaches: unfortunately, the only therapeutic intervention is not enough, it is necessary to develop support but also educational courses and above all we must act on the institutions to promote a “healthy” game culture in which we approach it with the awareness that our internal “limits” are reflected precisely in the constant search for a victory that will never come. Reducing risk factors, developing protection policies towards potentially weaker groups and those who easily fall into addiction should be the starting point. Then act on the social context (schools, neighborhoods, places of socialization); sensitize citizens and institutions on the risks of gambling, the border between “healthy” and “sick” games. All interventions that may not eradicate gambling or gambling but that will surely lead players to a more mature and aware approach to gambling.