AG 099: Nature AND Nurture

Episode Details

The more we seem to discuss mental health and addiction issues, the higher the numbers seem to go.

And I don’t think this is a coincidence!

For the past 10+ years, I’ve been studying our current messaging and listening to the stories of those impacted to try to figure out where we are going wrong. Most notably, I’ve been trying to figure it all out to make sense in my own life.

In this episode, I take the first attempt at highlighting what I feel we are getting wrong, while also providing a new storytelling framework that I believe can help us to reverse course.

Please listen. Please give feedback. And please share widely.

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Full Episode Transcript

This is episode 99 of the After Gambling Podcast, and in this episode we are going to talk about nature and nurture.

Hey there and welcome to the After Gambling Podcast. My name is Jamie. I am the host of this podcast and also a former problem gambler. I do this little podcast well, 99 of these little podcast. It’s crazy to believe, but do these little things to hopefully help other people that are in the same shoes I was or just trying to help somebody else or trying to learn more about gambling addiction or any addiction under the sun.

And that’s actually a really good place to start with today because this is a topic that has been on my mind for many years. As you all know, I am a marketer and advertiser. I tell brand stories. And my mind is always trying to figure out what is the optimal way to tell a story so that it connects with the audience.

Because if it doesn’t connect with the audience and they don’t see the value or if they don’t understand the story, it fails. And so many times I see companies with great products, great services and customers that are sitting there and they would be perfect fits, but there’s a disconnect in the story. And the story is just not adding up. It’s not getting through.

There’s something going wrong there. And that’s where my job is to come in and understand and what the story being told is, as well as understand what the target audience is looking for and the words they’re looking for and the things that are making sense and the things that aren’t making sense. And so this topic today about nature and nurture is something that for me, personally, has been a huge part of my last many years, trying to go down this rabbit hole to figure out what the hell is going on with nature versus nurture, because ultimately this is a selfish pursuit.

I’m trying to figure out what happened in my life. Where did I go wrong? What were the things that I could have seen or I will hopefully see in the future? And what are the things that are just out of my control? If there are things that are out of my control, which we’ll talk about, but ultimately this has been this pursuit of mine.

That’s what I said yesterday on Twitter. I was trying to get this recorded yesterday and I tried three times and I just could not get the words out. I’m still struggling to get those words out. So hopefully we’ll nail it today or get closer to that ideal today. But this is a topic that is of deep personal interest to me and has been something that I think goes much wider than gambling addiction.

I think this impacts everyone because I think we all have things that we struggle with that are addictive. I think we all have things like depression and anxiety that tie into these same narratives. If they’re not exactly the same, they’re a very close relative or a very close sibling of addiction. And they also fall under this discussion of nature versus nurture. Is it just something that we’re destined to have, or is it something that we’re inviting into our lives or that is being thrust into our lives?

Either way, it’s important to understand. And I think as humans, we’re always trying to connect these dots. We’re trying to make sense of this. While we aren’t all marketers or advertisers, everybody is living their life and they’re trying to figure out what’s going on in their life and around them. And I know this is episode 99, and I hope this is actually the one that gets the most likes, shares, comments, criticisms, all of the above.

I hope this one is one. If you haven’t ever shared the podcast, I hope this is the episode you share. Hopefully the things I share here will make sense and really move us closer as a society. Because this is something I’m really I’m really kind of worried about. I’m worried about this current state of our messaging around nature and nurture because I just don’t think that we’re doing a good job. I think we’re trying to do a good job, but it’s just not working.

And I think we’re actually increasing our problems through our messaging, which is really concerning. Now, as is often the case, a lot of these thoughts that I have are then brought back to the surface. When I read something online, something somebody writes an article, an opinion piece, or a news article. In this case it comes from

Now I need to put in a quick trigger warning here because a lot of my audience, you’re not gamblers, you had a gambling problem and so you don’t want to necessarily go to a site where they’re going to be giving you offers about gambling or talking about offers about gambling.

While has so many great articles from a lot of people I really respect and they really do cover the industry. It’s very much a news and current happenings of things going on in the industry. They also are an affiliate site, so they make money by signing people up with gambling offers. So just know that and please don’t go to the site if that is going to be a trigger for you.

But so this recent piece that was posted on January 31st by Devon Jackson, who is great author, as I said, Devin’s a great author. Heather Fletcher, who also writes for com is fantastic. I’ve done some pieces with her. Check out her work. It’s really interesting stuff. As well as Alex Weldon.  I’m not sure if he writes anymore, but he is now an editor and somebody that I just really respect. And we have a lot of great back and forth on Twitter, especially in the DMs, discussing all things gambling.

So these are people that I really respect. I think they have a lot of good views and I’m really thankful for the work that they share. So Devon’s recent article was titled “Study: Genetic Predisposition to Alcohol & Other Addictions Applies to Gambling, Too”. Now this is something that instantly just jumped off the page for me because I have long believed that yes, if you’re predisposed to alcohol addiction, you’re going to be predisposed to gambling addiction.

And the opposite is also true. It also works social media, drugs and everything else that we can get addicted to. If you find yourself struggling with one, there’s a good chance that you will struggle or could struggle with others. And this is something anecdotally I just see going to 12 step meetings, you see people that talk about how they were in Narcotics Anonymous, or Alcoholics Anonymous, prior to Gamblers Anonymous, and they did really good and are still doing really good in those programs.

And yet the same stuff pops up in gambling and a lot of times it takes them a little while to see that it was the same underlying stuff going on that led them to alcohol, that now they had stopped the alcohol use but didn’t address some of those underlying issues or didn’t understand what some of those underlying issues were.

And so they pop back up in gambling. And again, this can go the other way. Somebody can address their gambling issues and you see this a lot in recovery. Then, people are starting to struggle and they’re addressing their alcohol issues. And later on they decide, okay, I’m going to stop alcohol as well. And over time, usually it seems like it takes a couple of these things to go.

And for me, it definitely was a couple of these things for me. I went to eating. All of a sudden I stopped gambling, but all of a sudden I was compulsively eating and just eating junk food and having a lot of the same thoughts. Well, this will be the last time. This will be the last time. And it wasn’t until I started seeing that in other areas or with my work and I saw these are the same feelings of needing to escape or wanting to escape that I use gambling for that are now popping up in other areas.

So it’s great to see that there is a study confirming this because while we’re in this “evidence led” day and age where it doesn’t matter if everybody sees it and you can talk about it and it makes complete sense, you have to have some data behind it. So while the headline jumped out and confirmed what I had long believed to be true, it was a statement from Dr. Csaba Barta who conducted this research at Semmelweis University in Hungary that really jumped off the page at me.

Dr. Bartha made the comment “It has been previously proven that a strong genetic influence exists for various addictions. Heritability – the degree to which genetics determine a trait – is estimated to be between 50% to 70% for addictions, while environmental effects account for the rest.” Now, this is the part that really just kind of stands out to me as something that we’re getting wrong when we’re looking at nature and nurture.

And I’ve done this. We’ve all sort of done this at times. We treat it like we’re looking at a pie chart and we’re trying to divide it up to say X percentage is nature and Y percentage is nurture. And then beyond that, we’re trying to say these actions are traced back to genetics and these actions are traced back to behaviors.

Ultimately, I think this is where we’re really going wrong in the storytelling. First off, it’s an unsolvable problem. We’re never going to be able to fully associate a behavior to a genetic without also looking at the environmental factors that were at play. It’s just impossible. We live lives that are full of billions of data points, billions of experiences.

How many of us can look back and remember a handful of these significant milestone moments that impacted us significantly in a positive or negative way? We remember a certain word somebody said or a certain glance somebody gave us and all of a sudden we stack all these experiences together and they create this one in 8 billion experience that’s unlike anyone else’s.

Now, the marketer and researcher in me will definitely say we can we can group these things together. We can start to interview and identify trends, patterns, things that are consistent because while there are 8 billion different experiences, they are going to be a lot alike. There are going to be a lot of similarities If we dig in deep and ask and interview and really dig and try to understand what happened, you start to see a lot of overlap.

And that’s what I see hearing so many stories about gambling addiction. Then, I go beyond and I listen to addictions, stories of alcohol addiction or people that just work too much or become obsessed with a sport or become addicted to social media. I can see myself in their behaviors, the things that they were looking to get out of that behavior.

I understand because it’s exactly what I did with gambling. So while they may have gotten to something from a unique, different point of view, there are these similarities that we definitely have, But I just don’t think we’re ever going to be able to solve the equation to figure out, okay, X percent is genetic, Y percent is environment. And here for this person, it was 73.2%.

And for this person it was 16.9%. And I think that’s in a way probably what we want in our minds based on this current narrative. But I think we can we can throw that all out and we can come up with a brand new approach, which I’m going to present here, which I think will be a lot easier to understand.

And I think it’s going to be a whole lot easier for people to take ownership of it to improve their lives, which is ultimately what we want them to do.

First, let’s start off by talking about the nature side of things. What benefit is it to us to have these addictive traits, these genetics that clearly show up in these negative ways?

Well, if we just look back at evolution, I mean, a lot of these things actually kept us safe, kept us secure. Take being anxious. All of a sudden we’re out in the jungle, we’re looking for food and we hear a noise coming and we don’t know if it’s some kind of predator coming to get us or if it’s just the wind blowing.

Well, survival is going to favor the person that is anxious and gets worried and runs away, runs away from that problem and gets to live another day. We always talk about the dopamine hits that we get from gambling, from alcohol, These highs that we experience, well, evolutionary wandering around and we find a bush and has some kind of edible fruit that has this reward.

And we’re going to of course, our dopamine centers would probably light up. Right? And so we had these evolutionary reasons that were probably baked into us that have helped us survive, that helped us identify the things that could kill us and the things that could keep us surviving and going forward. And in each and every story that I hear about addiction, I see these patterns.

I see it in escapism. Sometimes it triggers our trauma. Sometimes they’re just discomfort. But there’s something going on in our lives that we just want to get away from or we feel like we can’t deal with. We don’t have the tools to address in the moment. And so we go out and we look for a way to numb, a way to escape, a way to not think about the things that are going on.

Or on the other side of the coin, we are excited. We’re racing out looking for that next big find. We’re looking for the hunt. We’re looking for the berries that are going to sustain us to make it to another day. These are those dopamine hits that we so often talk about. And my theory, as is the theory of a lot of other people, is that while we don’t have these life and death threats in our everyday lives, our primitive brains don’t understand.

And so we perceive all these things as a threat or all these things as this massive opportunity for survival. And so we just have gone haywire because we don’t have the problems that we had in the past. And our primitive brains are always going to have that radar looking for that fight or flight. Now, I think the important thing to highlight here is that we all have these genetics which are pretty similar here.

I think it’s within all of us to experience addictions. In fact, I probably think we all experience addictions at different points in our lives. And I think one of the huge mistakes that we made in messaging is that we highlight genetics as sort of a cause of these addictions without highlighting that other people likely have those same genetics, but they aren’t being expressed in the same ways.

And that becomes really interesting. And I think that’s where you start to make the segway into understanding the behavioral stuff, the environmental stuff. Because two people that have these same general makeups, same genetic makeup, but if one has an environment that is ripe for leading them to addiction and the other one has an environment that, for whatever reason warns them, cautions them from going down the path of addiction, then we can really study and begin to apply what we learn to helping people improve their lives.

Now, if we made the switch to this approach where we highlight to everyone on the planet that, hey, addiction, it is genetic, but it’s in all of us, and the question isn’t nature versus nurture, but nature and nurture. And so that because we all have these genes, certain people, their experiences in life, cause them to be expressed. And just because you haven’t experienced it in a certain area doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible to it.

I think this switch would do four things right away. First of all, it’s going to reduce shame and stigma. We always talk about shame and stigma of addiction and how can we that how can we battle it? Well, when you talk about the fact that we all experiences these things, all of a sudden you stop othering people, you stop creating this group that is unique and different because ultimately we can’t really prove that they are unique or different.

And that’s always been my hang up with the genetics side of things. Because I didn’t see these things as different. So as we start to see more and more research that shows, okay, if you have one addiction, it makes you more likely to also have these other ones. All of a sudden it’s the same stuff at play. It doesn’t matter what your addiction is.

Like I said earlier, if we scroll back and you can show me somebody that doesn’t have some kind of addiction in their lives, I’d love to see it. I know I’ve only been around for 40 years, but I haven’t found anyone yet.

Now, a few people quoted in the article mentioned how talking about gambling addiction or any addiction as being genetic might be able to help with shame and stigma, the thought being that if we can highlight that this is something beyond the person’s control, it won’t be viewed as a vice or some kind of personal shortcoming, and therefore we reduce shame and stigma.

Now, if we switch it up and we start talking about how these genetics, this kind of DNA that is baked into us from an evolutionary point of view and is in all of us in some cases leads to a gambling addiction, then yeah, I agree that this will reduce shame and stigma. That’s my approach here. However, this current approach is doing just the opposite.

It is not reducing shame and stigma, it’s actually probably increasing it. Why do I say that? Well, think about the parent. I am a parent. Imagine the shame and stigma of passing down this genetic issue to your child. This poor, helpless child that you just want to raise and help and make sure they live their best life. And now you feel shame because something beyond your control, you passed down to them.

And if you don’t think that’s real, you need to talk to more people. I’ve met several people that are frightened of either having children or they’re scared to death about their kids becoming gambling addicts too, or their kids becoming alcoholics too. Based on their experiences and the belief that this is a genetic component that they somehow have and that it’s going to be beyond their control to help their children.

And then let’s talk about the kids. All of a sudden, they look at you like, man, I got the wrong end of the deal. Mom and dad, you really screwed me over here. You passed down this thing to me? Thanks a lot, bro. What’s up with that? And they look at their friends who don’t have it, and all of a sudden there’s a shame and a stigma.There’s an othering effect.

If what I’m saying is true, that these genetics, we find that they are in all of us, they just express differently. Somebody pops up as gambling disorder, another one pops up as alcoholism, another one pops up a social media addiction. If we find that they’re all basically the same mix, the same DNA, and that we all have them, and we also have people that have those and they’re not being expressed, which was highlighted at the end of the article. Like, that’s such a better message to sell! Such a better message to tell people, because then it doesn’t create the shame and stigma. It’s highlighting the fact that we all have this and there are things that we can do as a society and as individuals to improve upon it and to not have to feel such a burden by these addictions.

So number one, right off the bat, we are going to actually reduce shame and stigma with this approach.

Second one, we’re going to increase empathy. Which we need! We need a ton more empathy. We need people to understand that when they see somebody, they’re pointing out it’s not a vice. It’s something that can happen to them if they’re in the right situation.

All of a sudden, this DNA mix that we all have combined with some kind of life experience, some kind of traumatic event, some kind of fear, irrational fear, irrational fear, whatever it is, if you can understand that, that could be you. There’s gonna be a whole lot more empathy for other people. There’s going to be understanding. And when we start pointing out, okay, hey, your thing that you have—the reason that you go off golfing with your friends every weekend and you don’t want to give it up and you really feel like you can’t give it up, the benefit you get from that, that’s what somebody else is using gambling to try and get. Maybe it’s a bad strategy, maybe it’s a worse strategy over the years. Maybe yours is healthier, but they’re pretty much the same. They are the same. If we can go down that path, all of a sudden we start increasing empathy so that people can look at other people and they can understand how somebody got to the place that they got.

That’s what we all want. We want to decrease shame and stigma, increase empathy. A win-win with this approach.

The next one, which is probably the biggest one, is we increase awareness. We put this on people’s radar. “Hey, you are susceptible to gambling addiction. You are susceptible to alcoholism. Hey, you are susceptible to being on your phone too much. Hey, you’re susceptible to chasing after that next promotion so much that you give up all these other things in life, which is what addiction is right now.”

What do we always say? It’s so hard to get people to realize that it could be them. Nobody thinks it’s going to be them. Nobody takes the first drink and thinks that they’re going to become an alcoholic. Nobody goes to the poker room and thinks they’re going to become a gambling addict. We just don’t have it on our radar.

Now, does having you on our radar solve our problems? Of course not, because look at what we’ve used to connect the dots to tell a genetic story. If mom and dad have an alcohol problem, the children should be able to look at that and understand that that is not a good way to cope with the stress of their day to day lives and that they will go a different path. But they don’t.

So we understand that this won’t be this magic bullet, that awareness all of a sudden eliminates all these problems, but it can improve things because there are other stories where it does help. I’ll take poker. I didn’t have any experience with poker or much gambling at all growing up. A guy I’ve gotten to know, he grew up around card rooms and he doesn’t have a problem. He doesn’t have a problem with poker. He played probably just as much, probably more than I did all throughout. But he said he learned so many valuable lessons in that card room. The guys looked after him. They were concerned for his well-being. They knew that he could be greatly influenced in his early teens, and so they would teach him lessons. They would point out times where people made mistakes, made mistakes with their money, made mistakes in the way they played the hands, all these things, because they knew what could happen and they wanted to give him the best possible chance of success. So that’s a place where awareness helped him.

So again, going back, we scroll out and we accept the fact that, hey, this is within all of us.

It’s evolutionary, it is some kind of gene, but it’s also a combination. It’s a nature and nurture, not nature versus nurture. It’s both of these things. We can’t pinpoint them, but you’ve got to be on your toes and be aware. You don’t need to fear it. This is nothing anybody needs to fear. Look around the world. There’s tons of people that don’t have a gambling problem.

So let’s focus on what they’re doing and learn from them. Same with every other addiction. We can learn what the skills are to know that we have this thing within us. We have these demons that can come out if the situation is right, but they also don’t need to come out. Nothing biologically changed in my life between July 15th and July 16th, but then everything changed in my life.

And then number four, the biggest one of all is, I think if we switch to this approach, we’re going to see a hell of a lot better outcomes. And that’s what we all want. We want people to be able to identify the threats, see the threats that are out there, see the opportunities, right?

Because that’s the other thing. These things within us, the drive that that pushes us out, that helps us run these evolutionary things that allowed us to survive, they’re really good for driving us to create new things, to grow in our lives, to advance in our jobs, to become more successful in sports or in in writing or whatever pursuit. We have music, you name it. These things drive us.

It was something I always struggled with when I stopped gambling. I was looking back and I saw these same traits that I used for sports. I tried to apply them to gambling and I got terrible outcomes and I came to this fork in the road. I’m like, “Do I need to give up these things? Do I need to get rid of this part of me that I feel like is kind of something I’ve honed and worked on that gave me these great outcomes?”

No, I just needed to understand that I was applying them in a bad way. I had a bad set of thoughts and a bad vision of how to implement a strategy.

The mix of these DNA things that were my drive, along with kind of the behavioral things and the learned behaviors and skills that I had that I used on the golf course I used in the classroom or used them friendships and relationships. Those were good things, but they could also be bad things. And so, again, this is just this awareness.

And once you see that and you can understand that these same things can lead to our best, highest highs, they can make us the Michael Jordans, the Kobes, the Steve Jobs, in all aspects of life. These people—their addiction, their drive, this mix of genetics plus experiences leads to push us further as a society. But that same stuff, if we don’t harness it, if we don’t understand it, if we aren’t aware of it, can lead us into the 12 step programs, can lead us into depression, anxiety. Record highs! We’re seeing record highs in all of these things.


There has to be something wrong with our story. And that’s what I’ve been obsessed with for the last probably five years, maybe ten years since I’ve been going down this path. And so I’m so excited about this podcast in particular because I feel like I can finally express what I’m thinking and I hope that this makes sense.

I hope that this leads to a lot more conversation for anybody that was quoted in the article. I’m going to tag you on LinkedIn. I hope that you reach out to me. I hope you listen to this and I hope that we can have an hour long conversation to expand conversation on this topic. Let’s go into it deeper and explore what the opportunity is that’s in front of us and to see what is a better way of messaging.

There’s a lot of people that do excellent research. We need to combine that with excellent messaging and marketing. And so it’s a mix of understanding that target audience and then telling them a story that isn’t that isn’t going to just get them down in the weeds and lead to increased stigma and shame. When I know everybody, that’s the last thing people want, but that’s the side effect that we’re getting right now.

So if we can see where that’s going wrong, where we’re we’re doing things that we think are in the best interest, but they’re not quite working, then we’ve got to keep tweaking them. And that’s what storytelling is. We keep revising that story. We keep moving around the pieces of the puzzle and we start trying different things.

We call it A/B testing. You test one message here and you test the other message there. You do it 100 times and you see what the results are. And then you refine it and you improve it. That’s what we need to do with this mental health and addiction messaging. And this is a starting point which I think can really change really the whole landscape and the whole messaging system that we have today, which is clearly not working for us.

That took more attempts than any other podcast I’ve ever done. I really look forward to feedback. I sincerely hope if you agree with this, if you disagree with this, I hope you share it wisely. I hope that this gets out. Let’s see what other people think. Let’s see if other people listen to this and if it resonates with them, because if it does, that’s a beta testing that we need.

And if people identify with this and can have more empathy and understanding for addiction and more awareness that they are at risk of things, it’s not a fear. We don’t want to we don’t want to frighten people. We just want them to be appropriately aware of what it is to be human. So please share this widely. Please comment.

Please do all those things. You can follow or connect with me. Reach out to me. My email is I’m pretty much everywhere on social media. I’m easy to find. That’s an addiction of mine. Hey, I admit it. First thing is, you’ve got to admit what your addictions are. And realize that some of those things, that’s another one. Being on social media has given me so many great opportunities I would never have, but it also has a risk with it. So a great example from the piece on how these things can go both ways.

So yeah, please reach out, let me know what you think and share it widely.

Finally, the music for the podcast is “Something Elated” by Broke for Free and is licensed under the Creative Commons license.

And if you want to support the work that I do, you can go to make a financial contribution.

As always, I appreciate you listening. I look forward to your feedback. I invite your feedback and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode.