As we continue to place gambling and problem gambling under the microscope, I think it’s important to acknowledge one thing: the gambling industry isn’t the origin of addiction.
The Origin of Addiction
The place where gambling addiction—and all addiction—begins is not with the first exposure. No, the root source of addiction lies in an underlying emotional issue that is being ignored or left untreated.
Addiction takes root in a desire to escape some piece of our life that feels frightens us. Fear of change, pain, disconnection, and loss are just a few places where we may become emotionally unstable.
And in these times of fear, we turn to “things” in an attempt to ignore or cover up our pain. A few of the “things” are alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, food, work, hobbies, relationships, exercise, and of course gambling.
Why Does This Matter?
At this point, you might be angry and thinking “Jamie, why the hell does this matter?”
Well, I believe it matters quite a bit as it impacts how we address the problem.
If gambling were indeed the origin of gambling addiction, then calls to restrict or eliminate gambling would be the best approach. It would remove the source and thus kill off the addiction.
But gambling isn’t the source of the addiction. It’s simply the “thing” that individual has turned to when their emotional load is too much to handle. So, if you take away gambling, they will turn to another “thing” to cover up their underlying baggage.
I believe this is why so many people jump from addiction to addiction like a game of whack-a-mole at the arcade. As soon as they eliminate one “thing”, another pops up. It’s only when the underlying emotional issues are addressed and acknowledged that the person can begin to see their problem at face value and develop new habits and skills to address it.
This Isn’t a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card
Having said all this, the industry can, should, and appears to be poised to do more. They may not be the root cause of addiction, but they can join in the fight to help identify those at-risk and steer them towards help. Just because you didn’t start the fire, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grab a bucket and help put it out.
And I believe they will.
I know others are less optimistic, but I see it as the best path towards long-term industry success and I think operators are seeing that as well.
If we want to address gambling addiction—as well as every other addiction—we need to look at the larger social issues that are causing the emotional stress.
Otherwise, we’ll continue to be frustrated. It will simply be with a different industry.