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Are operators responsible for causing addiction?
And can they control it by setting limits in place, asks Jason Shiers of UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT).
If we fully understood the root cause of addiction, we probably wouldn’t be using behavioural restriction as a tool to control it. But does that mean that tools are useless? Is damage limitation a token gesture? Or is it valuable?
The Gambling Commission enforces responsible gambling in its guidelines in a way that forces operators to modify a user’s playing experience. Operators must put in place ‘damage limitation’ controls to prevent a gambler’s play from developing into compulsive behaviour.
Which makes sense; putting obstacles in the way to stop people spending their life savings in a day is reasonable and proportionate. However, this only targets the symptom - the underlying cause remains! In April, the Gambling Commission provided its first progress report from the industry working groups that were established in January this year. Comprising operators and suppliers, their aim is to develop new player protection standards across the industry.
It is great that time and creativity is being invested in this way, but the primary focus is once again on the symptom. Surely if someone is investing in your business, you have a duty of care to at least point to a solution that would be as useful as possible to that person? The big question is simple: are people only interested in making money and abiding by the law, doing just enough to look like they care?
Or do they genuinely care but find there are a lack of options when it comes to improving treatment? A voluntary arrangement with the Gambling Commission sees operators donating money to organisations who do great work in research, education and treatment (RET), so could better guidance to the industry in general be useful?
Can excessive gambling cause addiction?
In my previous article, The Real Root Cause of Gambling Addiction, I talked about the in-built self-regulation that exists within all humans, often unconsciously, and likened it to the steam valve of a pressure cooker.
If addiction as the end behaviour is the symptom, then tackling that behaviour as a solution, rather than looking for a deeper cause, would be approaching it in the wrong way. People are just managing their experience of life, often subconsciously.
There are always some areas of life that certain people struggle with, even if they don’t know any different. It could be that they have never experienced joy and contentment in life to have a contrast, or have never had the opportunity to really have a look at it – but it’s there. In this case, gambling is the coping mechanism for their low state of mind.
Is gambling addiction any different to alcohol or drugs?
It’s very common for addictions to be compartmentalised or contrasted, as if one is worse than the other, or one is socially acceptable and the other isn’t. This is very much driven by misunderstandings. The flavour of someone’s addiction is not relevant to the cause and yet judgment is so prevalent even among sufferers.
For example, alcohol is more socially acceptable than drugs. People with pornography addictions may be judged by problem gamblers. But each of these addictions are the same – whatever the addiction manifests itself around, it’s still an addiction.
Addiction is the process, the habit, and regardless of whether people are in pubs and clubs, buying alcohol or obsessively spending money they don’t have on a credit card, the issue is the same. The innocent misunderstanding that addictions are somehow different is caused by a mixture of money (business), media, medical intervention, practitioners and more as the psychological world loves to focus on the problem and the diagnosis – rather than the innate mental health in everyone.
"Mental health lies within the consciousness of all human beings" – Syd Banks
If people learned to understand their experience of life through thought, how they create the reality they are experiencing and suffering from; if they understood how conditioning works, and saw through the made-up illusion of life, that there is not one reality; then levels of addiction would fall dramatically, there would be less suffering.
In their study Reviewing Two Types of Addiction – Pathological Gambling and Substance Use, Seyed Amir Jazaeri and Mohammad Hussain Bin Habil examine psychological comparisons between diagnosis criteria. The study notes that withdrawal from gambling can manifest as restlessness or irritability, something it suggests could be comparable to chemical withdrawal from substances
It goes on to talk about further criteria for diagnosis of substance dependence, which is described as “a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use” vs “repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling”.
The psychological world creates diagnoses in order to define treatment, and people often feel it gives them respite from the idea that they are somehow crazy, that there is now some logical reason why they gamble.
But for the purpose of this article, it’s worth considering that what we are talking about is what is beyond the psychology of all human beings. Recently in the Book of Woe, Thomas R Insel, an American neuroscientist, psychiatrist and head of the NMIH for 15 years, stated: “We have spent so much time diagnosing mental disorders that we actually believe they are real. But there’s no reality. These are just constructs.”
Looking to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for diagnostics and diagnoses may not be the best option to help people understand this condition. Empirical evidence, exploring the lived experience of people who have had life-changing enlightenment experiences, would give a better direction for treatment.
In the research paper Three Principles for Realising Mental Health (paywall), J. Pransky and T. M. Kelley state that: “The better people understand thought and how to use it in their best interest, the better it will serve them. The understanding of these principles helps people realise how their creative power of thought can be used in either a healthy, responsive, constructive way or an unhealthy, unresponsive, destructive way.
“Simply put, only two ways of being are possible for all people at any given time. Either they are operating from wisdom, peace of mind, well-being, and love, which naturally ‘appear’ whenever their minds are quiet or clear, or their inner health is being overridden by thinking that is not serving them well, and they believe the content of that thinking as real or ‘the truth’."
How could the Gambling Commission and operators make a real difference? It would make more sense if the Gambling Commission pushed games developers and operators to help people who are problem gamblers or suffering with addiction to see the nature of their suffering and the root cause of it as explained above. To get a new experience of life, as that is where the addiction is created, innocently as an escape.
Other than that, it will always be a behavioural management process.
While it is great that there is ‘desire’ and some measures are put in place to stop the immediate damage, there seems to be a degree of bad faith among it all. So much more could be done. It all comes down to whether or not the Commission and the operators really want to do more than what’s seen to be a bit useful, to really help, and if it makes business sense from a financial point of view to look after people’s wellbeing.
You could argue that if people are going to invest their money in the igaming industry for entertainment purposes, then the industry as a whole has a responsibility towards their well-being. Equally, this could be levelled at pubs, breweries and off-licences; there’s a case to argue that these vendors should also be expected to foot the bill of rehabilitation and staff be trained to spot tell-tale signs of addiction, just as is happening for gambling.
So, what is the real solution?
You can’t help but see the wheels of life in motion, starting with the misunderstanding of how the mind works. We innocently create a life of suffering, then we escape from it with an addiction, we choose gambling as our means to feel better, the gambling industry makes money, creates business, gives payouts to charities to fix the problem, the charities help people suffering, and the cycle continues endlessly until people wake up to their misunderstanding.
There the cycle ends, it falls away. It no longer looks like a good idea to drink yourself into oblivion, or gamble away your mortgage payments, because you experience more of what you always sort out in addiction: you see your own wisdom which takes you on the infinitely creative journey of life.
It is true that people have spontaneous insights and their life can change immediately. While it’s not a process that can be bottled, there are certain learnings and conditions that can be put in place that could help people’s lives change markedly, that could be adopted as a form of treatment with the right research and evidence-backed results.
This is usually the place where you find the great argument for some complex, detailed solution to the problem. No, really – it’s that simple.
We are addicted to complexity, and anything that sounds simple can’t possibly be correct. It is part of our conditioning to overlook the simplest option, to look for the most detailed plan, but the solution is really that simple.
When people wake up to their true nature, see beyond the suffering they have created, they stop wanting to escape from the world. They experience more joy, peace of mind and contentment. They live more in the moment, feel more secure and create amazing things in the world.
Jason Shiers is a certified transformative coach and certified psychotherapist, and also the creative innovations marketing manager for UK Addiction Treatment. Jason has been working with addictions and people in recovery for 25 years and is always looking towards the innate mental health that is inside everyone. He has been cited in multiple articles about addiction and is a regular contributor to many different websites.