Gambling Addiction Help

gambling addiction recovery

Gambling Addiction Help: For problem gamblers it is never as easy to find help as it is to find a new gambling portal. As such we aim to give as much information as we can so that it is easier for you to find help in your neighbourhood if you need it. We have scoured the internet to find resources by area, and these can be found listed below.

We will be continually adding resources to this page as soon as we find them. Please feel free to send us a link to support or for gambling addiction help counseling centers in your region if it is not listed below.

Gambling Addiction Help


Overview of Gamblers Anonymous meeting times and locations in many countries (including many not listed below):

http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/addresses


Gambling Addiction Help & Recovery

The Definitive Expert Resource Guide For You, Your Family, or Your Patients

Written by Dr. Dina Macaluso, Psy.D, L.M.H.C., Alan Boyd, & Sharon Therien

Read the full paper: What is addiction?


Gambling addiction help


Gambling Addiction Rehab

gambling-addiction-rehab

Our organization aims to provide information and answers for people fighting addiction. We provide extensive information on a multitude of addictions (including gambling addiction). At DrugRehab.com our mission is to equip readers with the best information, resources and tools to overcome addiction. 


Gambling Addiction – Rehab Recovery

addiction help rehab recovery

Rehab Recovery is a free and national helpline assisting people suffering from addiction and mental health problems. You can contact Rehab Recovery on 0800 088 66 86.


Other gambling addiction help resources:

Australia:

http://www.gansw.org.au/

http://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/

https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/what-we-do-to-help-new/children-and-families/problem-gambling/help-for-problem-gambling

http://www.rgl.wa.gov.au/

http://www.problemgambling.gov.au/resources/

Canada:

http://www.problemgambling.ca/

http://www.knowtherisks.ca/

http://www.info-reference.qc.ca/www/Home.php?locale=en-CA

http://www.bcresponsiblegambling.ca/

http://www.gov.ns.ca/hpp/addictions/gambling/

England:

http://www.hkgamblers-recovery.org/

http://www.gamblercaritas.org.hk/html/chi/index.asp

India:

http://www.kripafoundation.org/

Ireland:

http://dunlewey.net/

http://www.gamcare.org.uk/

http://www.parentingni.org/

http://www.gamanon.org.uk/

http://www.hopehouse.ie/

http://www.rutlandcentre.ie/

http://www.gambleaware.ie/

http://www.aiseiri.ie/

http://www.cuanmhuire.ie/

Isle Of Man:

http://www.gov.im/gambling/problems.xml

New Zealand:

http://pgfnz.org.nz/

Northern Ireland:

http://www.northlands.org.uk/

Norway:

http://www.hjelpelinjen.no/

http://www.blakors.no/

South Africa:

http://www.tabankulu.co.za/

Spain:

http://www.gam-anon.org/index.php/meeting-directory/international-meetings/1405-spain

Tanzania:

http://www.treasury.tas.gov.au/domino/dtf/dtf.nsf/

USA:

http://www.ncpgambling.org/

Wales:

http://www.penyrenfys.org/what-we-do/services-to-individuals/gambling-intervention/


The Ultimate Guide to Gambling Addiction

guide to gambling addiction

The extent of the problem

There are around 593,000 addicted gamblers in the United Kingdom alone. This signifies this problem is very real and very common. However, many of these people silently suffer from this disorder for many years. In this post, we put the spotlight on gambling addiction and also offer up some tips for overcoming your gambling addiction for good. If you are one of these 593,000 people suffering from an addiction, know that you are not alone and that help is available. By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you will hopefully have been given enough information to make long and last changes.

Despite the fact problem gambling is now classified as a bona fide behavioural addiction, many people still dismiss a gambling addiction as something that’s dissimilar to a disease. However, this belief could not be further from the truth. This is because an addiction to gambling carries highly serious consequences for the sufferer and his or her family, and the illness perpetuates despite the sufferer’s wish to stop gambling for good. These consequences that face gambling addicts include job loss, financial meltdown, divorce and separation and even suicide.

Even though gambling addiction is widely regarded as an illness of the mind, many people may view gambling as a quasi-illness and one that involves conscious choice on behalf of the suffer. This would mean the gambling addict is ‘at fault’ for developing his or her addiction. However, gambling is a very serious illness and not unlike an addiction to drugs and alcohol. In this article, we aim to dispel this belief that gambling is not a ‘real’ illness.

Who gambling addiction affects

There is no ‘typical’ gambling addict. Gambling addiction affects all age groups, both sexes and all socioeconomic groups. This means we are all at risk of developing an addiction to gambling. It’s thus a valuable endeavour to educate yourself on this destructive disease we call a gambling addiction to ensure you know how to react if you or a loved one are touched by this disease.

Meet Pam, a 59-year-old gambling addict from Skegness

Before we continue, we would like to introduce you to Pam. Pam is a 59-year-old woman from Skegness. He’s a mother of three grown up children. Pam is married and she’s had a stable job as a secretary for a medium sized public organisation for the past 19 years. Back in 2008, Pam developed an addiction to slot machines. Pam’s addiction took over almost all areas of her life and pushed Pam to engage in illegal acts she’d never of dreamed of doing before she developed an addiction to gambling.

Pam would eventually gamble away every penny of her monthly paycheck on slot machines. This forced Pam to embezzle money from her employer. Pam suffered from an illusion that made her believe she could somehow win back her losses. Pam believed she was only ‘borrowing’ this money from her employer. This helped Pam avoid labelling herself as a thief. However, the more Pam lost, the more she stole in order ‘repay’ her employer.

Pam’s behaviour was literally hijacked by her addiction. Every time Pam lost all of her money at a local casino, she would drive home banging on her steering wheel promising herself she would never step foot in a casino again. However, the urges to resume gambling were too powerful for Pam to overcome, plus she had around £18,000 to return to her employer before they noticed the lost money.

Pam’s addiction to gambling came to an abrupt end in the Summer of 2009 when she was arrested for stealing public money from her employer. Pam served a six-month suspended jail sentence and she was ordered to serve 150 hours of community service. Now Pam attends weekly Gamblers Anonymous groups and she’s been ‘clean’ for nearly six years.

Pam believes some of the damage caused by her addiction is irreversible, particular due to strain her addiction inflicted on close relationships with her friends, family members and former colleagues. Pam also has many feelings of guilt and shame attached to her past addiction and she struggles to overcome these emotions to the present day.

Below, we outline a number of studies that help explain Pam’s erratic behaviour. We also provide a number of tips people in Pam’s situation could implement to avoid a similar fate.

Gambling addiction in the DSM-5

In the DSM-5, gambling addiction is classed as a ‘behavioural addiction’. This means a gambling addiction is no longer considered an ‘impulse control disorder’. In fact, a gambling addiction is the only behavioural addiction of its kind to feature in the DSM-5 i.e. non-drug addiction Now gambling addiction is covered in the DSM-5, many insurance companies will pay for their insured to access gambling addiction therapy.

The three types of gambling addiction

There are a number of reasons why people become addicted to gambling. We can broadly break these reasons down into three pathways that people travel along that leads to a gambling addiction.

Below we outline these three pathways

  1. The ‘normal’ problem gambler: this group of people begin to gamble socially and do not have any other underlying mental problems such as anxiety, depression or another co-occurring addiction that fuels their addiction to gambling. However, these people begin to gamble too often and they are known to ‘chase losses’. When they try to win lost money back they begin to realise they have developed a gambling problem. This group of people are known to best respond to therapy that’s designed to tackle gambling addiction
  2. The emotional problem gambler: these people make up the largest group who suffer from a gambling addiction. These people gamble to ‘mask’ and ‘numb’ pain caused by a traumatic event suffered in their earlier life. Gambling is thus a means of ‘self-medication’ that allows these people to process underlying emotional issues such as anxiety or depression. This is because gambling is a ‘mood modifier’ and an escapism
  3. The biologically pre-disposed gambler: this group of people exhibit an underlying neurophysiological deficiency that increases their odds of engaging in problem gambling. This deficiency means these people are more inclined to become impulsive and they may have a low boredom threshold. They are thus looking for ways to feel stimulated and aroused and gambling seems to provide this outlet

What is an addiction?

An addiction is when priority is awarded to specific motivated behaviours (e.g. gambling). These behaviours are associated with immediate or short-term rewards. Less priority is given to other motivated behaviours such as occupational or familial behaviours that are typically less associated with immediate rewards. Addiction is thus characterised as a disorder of misdirected motivation.

The core components of an addiction to gambling include:

  • Continued behaviour despite adverse consequences
  • Diminished or lost control/compulsive engagement
  • Craving or urge state component

Medically speaking, an addiction to gambling is also known as ‘problem gambling’, ‘ludomania’, ‘gambling disorder’ ‘clinical pathological gambling’ or ‘compulsive gambling.’  Like all other addictions, gambling is classed as an ‘urge to engage in a behaviour despite experiencing negative harmful consequences as a result.’

Your brain on gambling

The nucleus accumbens within the brain is responsible for reward processing. All addictions, including gambling, activate the nucleus accumbens forcing it to produce a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Dopamine release tells you a specific activity is rewarding. Natural activities that assure your survival are known to trigger the release of dopamine. This includes having sex, drinking water and eating food.

Dopamine is released when a pleasurable activity is undertaken. However, dopamine is also released when a pleasurable activity is merely anticipated. When you anticipate an activity such as gambling, dopamine is released. Your brain expects more dopamine to be released once the activity is fulfilled.

If the activity is not fulfilled, you experience urges to complete the activity in order to receive an uplift in dopamine. These urges force you to continue gambling even when after you promised you will ‘never gamble again.’ Addiction is thus caused by a shortfall in expectation for a dopamine uplift.

The unconscious need for that dopamine hit becomes a preoccupation that causes us to act upon it by engaging in the addictive behaviour. PET imaging of an addict’s brain reveals this is the case. The dopamine reward system is triggered by various environmental cues that involve a ‘reward.’ This includes watching porn, gambling and seeing an attractive person you would like to have sex with.

Dopamine made me do it!

The mere anticipation of the reward triggers the dopamine reward system. This forces the addict to lose his or her powers of reasoning in pursuit of fulfilling the dopamine releasing activity.

The addict engages in the addictive activity due to the unconscious belief that the activity will further his or her survival. In reality, the addictive behaviour has hijacked the person’s reward mechanism that’s designed by evolution to help his or her survival. Conscious reasoning is trumped by a dopamine directed desire to engage in the addictive behaviour under the pretext this behaviour will assist the person’s survival.

Neurological pathways

Consistent exposure to the addictive behaviours causes the construction of neurological pathways in the brain. This is because neural circuits that ‘fire together, wire together.’ These dopamine-producing pathways become the route of ‘less resistance’ when it comes to dopamine release.

This means urges to engage in addictive behaviours becomes far more powerful when these behaviours are repeatedly continued. These neural pathways remain for many years following the addict’s decision to give up the addictive behaviours. However, with time, these pathways become weaker and weaker.

Falling dopamine levels when you are addicted

Dopamine levels reduce when people suffer from an addiction. Volkow’s study involved participants being injected with a dopamine medication known as pramipexole. This drug was radioactively labelled. The drug then bound to the dopamine receptors in the participants’ brain. Using a PET camera, the researchers then visualised that marker as a signal of dopamine levels. The dopamine signal was found to be weaker for participants suffering from an addiction to drugs compared to the healthy control participants. This reveals long-term addiction leads to lowered levels of dopamine. When the addicted participants were exposed to drugs, their dopamine receptors lit up like a touch on the PET camera when compared to the healthy control group.

Similar results were revealed for pathological gamblers in another study conducted in 2012. This was particularly the case when it came to mood-related impulsivity and urgency. However, these differences in dopamine levels between the addicted and control group for the gambling study were not as apparent as that displayed in the earlier study involving drug addiction.

Signs of a gambling addiction

If you suspect you or a loved one suffer from an addiction gambling, then known there exist a number of signs that may confirm your suspicion.

Below we list the most common signs that signify you or your loved one could be suffering from an addiction to gambling:

  1. A pre-occupation with gambling: this is when you cannot turn off your thinking when it comes to gambling, no matter how hard you try to block off these thoughts
  2. Loss of control: you cannot cut back on your gambling no matter how hard you try. Following a gambling binge, you tell yourself ‘never again,’ but within 24 hours you’ve made another bet. This signifies you are not in control of your gambling
  3. Tolerance to gambling: you need to gamble more and more money or to gamble more frequently in order to feel the desired psychological state your addiction demands
  4. Experiencing ‘withdrawals’: When you stop gambling, your experience several psychological withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, discomfort and depression
  5. Escapism: You gamble in order to ‘mask’ or ‘numb’ psychological pain that’s caused by traumatic experiences or abuse you experienced in your past
  6. Chasing your losses: You continue to gamble in a desperate attempt to regain money you’ve lost in prior bets
  7. Lying and stealing: you engage in activities that cross your moral boundaries in order to conceal or fuel your gambling. This includes lying or stealing from your loved ones

Phases of compulsive gambling

There’s are four phases of compulsive gambling. These four phases are categorised below:

  1. The winning phase: this is when you experience a big win and you are very excited about it. You develop a pre-occupation with gambling and when you gamble you experience a physiologically excited state
  2. The losing phase: this is when you become more obsessed with your gambling. You start to gamble alone and you begin to borrow money in order to gamble. You may attempt to ‘win back’ what you have lost and you lie to your loved ones about the extent of your gambling. You also begin to undergo personality changes as you become more withdrawn and restless
  3. The desperation phase: this is when your urges to gamble force you to engage in behaviour that conflicts with your personal values. You may steal, lie and cheat in order to raise the necessary funds that enables your addiction to gambling. You may begin to experience suicidal thoughts
  4. The hopelessness phase: this is when you begin to lose your support system and feel increasingly isolated. You now feel ‘burned out’ from your gambling addiction and you may begin to expose yourself to substance abuse. Suicidal ideation also increases and you may attempt to carry out these ideas?

Gambling addiction and other addictions

Many gamblers also suffer from a ‘co-occurring’ addiction. NESARC research reveals around 70% of pathological gamblers suffer from an addiction to alcohol. Around 38% of pathological gamblers also suffered from an addiction to drugs. Around 50% of these people suffered from a mood disorder and around 20% of these people had attempted suicide on at least one occasion.

The origins of emotional gambling

Emotional gambling, like all other addictions, is caused by negative emotions. These emotions include anger, fear and hopelessness caused by traumatic and abusive events experienced in the sufferer’s past. People suffering from a gambling addiction often carry ‘baggage.’ This emotional baggage is typically caused by a traumatic event experienced in childhood. People suffering from a gambling addiction have a little voice in their head that urges them to continue gambling even though this activity causes significant conflict in their life.

Once these people have finished gambling and thus lose all or some of their money, they may promise never to gamble again. However, as the pain and resentment re-surfaces, gambling addicts soon return to gambling instead of facing this pain using more productive means such as therapy. Gambling offers a temporary outlet for happiness and joy, so in a sense, resorting to gambling is a positive step to relieve pain and resentment caused by traumatic events in the gambling addict’s past. However, gambling ultimately accelerates the anxieties these people with to alleviate.

Being in the zone

Gambling addicts describe the feeling they experience when gambling as ‘being in the zone.’ These people describe ‘being in love’ with gambling or being in the ‘machine zone’. Gamblers lose the sense of what’s going on around them and they lose the sense of time. Five hours passing when gambling may seem like ten minutes.

This is because gambling hijacks the brain’s reward mechanism that drives our need to eat, drink water and have sex i.e. survival propagating behaviours. The addiction is not an addiction to winning money per se. Moreover, the addiction is to gambling itself. This masks all other problems the addict may be experiencing in his or her life. All of these problems simply disappear as the sufferer concentrates on the results of his or her gambling. Once this person has lost all of his or her money, these problems then reappear. Since they’ve lost all of their money, their anxieties have simply been accelerated.

Gambling and cognitive distortion

A gambler plays to excess due to decision-making distortions. These distortions create a heightened expectancy for winning i.e. that they are about to win. Although everyone is susceptible to decision-making distortions, problem gamblers are particularly susceptible to these cognitive distortions.

The two main types of distortions that apply to problem gambling are:

  1. The illusion of control (i.e. when the gambler confuses skill with chance)
  2. The gambler’s fallacy (labelling random sequences as ‘winning streaks’)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (discussed below) aims to help the gambling addict overcome these distortions by identifying and challenging these beliefs.

Casino company’s dirty little tricks

Now that we’ve outlined the definition and neurological process underpinning a gambling addiction, we shall now outline some of the less than ethical tactics employed by the gambling industry that take advantage of your tendency to become addicted to gambling.

Below we outline some of the less-than-ethical ‘tricks’ casinos are known to carry out in order to encourage gambling:

  1. Giving perks for playing such as free food and free tickets to shows
  2. Offering free alcoholic drinks to ‘big spenders’
  3. Use of sounds when winning occurs
  4. Using ‘chips’ instead of money so people do not believe they are losing money and distorting the value between chips and real money
  5. Dismissing dealers who ‘dump’ even though outcomes are random
  6. Obtaining personal details of known pathological gamblers and contacting them to return to the casino to claim perks

The danger of near misses

Most bettering games are designed to reveal ‘near misses’. This is when you almost won, but didn’t. Slot machines and roulette are two notable examples when it comes to near misses. Near misses act as powerful motivational forces to continue gambling. Complete misses are far less powerful when it comes to motivating you to ‘try again.’

Gamblers feel a powerful sense of discomfort when a near miss is experienced. This discomfort is experienced in the form of anxiety, and anxiety is known to increase the secretion of dopamine. Since dopamine is the brain’s goal direction neurotransmitter, dopamine release causes the gambler to experiences urges to continue gambling.

Casinos and slot machine makers arguably engineer slot machines to come up with more near misses to encourage continued play. Near misses induce cognitive regret and the only way to erase it is to continue gambling.

Gamblers overwhelmingly report an increased motivation to play after experiencing a near-miss outcome when compared to experiencing a full miss outcome. It’s thus not difficult to understand why so many betting games are designed to incorporate near-misses into their programming.

The dangers of multi-line slot machines

Many older slot machines contained a single line. If you matched up three equivalent items, you won. However, modern slot machines have multiple lines. You may bet on multiple lines at the same time. This gives you the opportunity to ‘win’ on one of several lines.

However, you must pay to bet on several lines. Thus, even if you do ‘win’ on one ‘line’, your losses outweigh your wins because you’ve lost on the other bets you paid for. This creates an illusion of winning even though your net losses outweigh your net gains. This illusion motivates you to continue to bet even though you are clearly losing money.

This is known as ‘losses disguised as wins’ or LDWs in the gambling industry. LDWs generate physiological arousal similar to actual wins e.g. heart rate increase, anxiety and perspiration. LDWs also distort the gamblers memory concerning the ‘true wins’ for that particular session.

Problem gamblers also report that multi-line games are more ‘immersive’ and more skilful than the single-line game alternatives.

When you strike a ‘win’, the machine responds with ‘bells and whistles.’ When you lose, the machine is silent. This plays on Pavlovian conditioning to encourage you to continue gambling.

The problem with modern slot machine

Modern slot machines have been described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling industry. Modern slot and roulette machines are different to their predecessors. With old-style slot machines, you simply pulled a handle and hoped for a ‘three of a kind.’

However, modern slot machines are similar to high-tech video games that play music and show scenes from popular TV shows. Instead of pulling a handle, you bet by pushing a button. The bet is literally over in seconds.

The speed in which these bets are completed means slot machines highly addictive. Many criticise the gambling industry for designing machines that purposefully cause people to develop a gambling addiction. In a sense, these machines are doing the same thing as an addictive drug i.e. making the user become dependent.

Addiction is linked to the speed of reward. This is why Internet pornography is much more addictive than pornography contained in a magazine of VHS video. And this is exactly why modern slot machines are much more addictive than older slot machines. Modern slot machines increase the gambling ‘dosage’ to much higher levels. All this speed means more bets, and more bets mean more excitement and more excitement means more dopamine. More dopamine means the modern slot machine is more addictive than its predecessors.

This also explains why the ‘penny slot’ machine is so addictive. You can literally place hundreds of small bets throughout the day. These machines are designed to give the player at least 30% of their money back. The lights and sounds emitted by these machines are designed to trick the gambler’s brain that he or she ‘came out ahead’ even though a net loss has occurred.

Fixed odds better terminals (OBTs) in the United Kingdom

Fix odds better terminals (OBTs) are electronic roulette machines. Because the UK lacks a US-style casino culture, these machines are typically available in bettering shops. Like the modern slot machine, an OBT is a very fast method of betting, and bets are completed far quicker when compared to traditional ‘real world’ roulette.

When compared to slot machines, OBTs have much higher stakes. Higher speed and stakes have earned OBTs the title of the ‘crack cocaine’ of UK betting shops. OBTs are by far the preferred means of gambling for the UK’s problem gamblers.

Gambling addiction risk factors

Below we list a number of factors that increase the risk of you developing an addiction to gambling:

#1. Confidence in your ability to win

Many gambling addicts believe they possess the knowledge to win above all the odds. This causes these people to gamble without monitoring what they have spent. Confidence does not equal competence, and within a short period of time many of these people develop an addiction to gambling.

#2. Easy access to gambling

Unfortunately, the availability of gambling outlets increases the odds of you developing an addiction to gambling. The number of gambling outlets is at an all-time high. Most towns and even villages have a bettering shop, and most cities are home to several casinos. The rise of online gambling means you can make a bet literally anywhere you can receive a telephone signal.

#3. Your economic status

People on a low salary are more likely to develop an addiction to gambling than their wealthier peers. You are more likely to chase what you consider to be a ‘big win’. Your winnings could be more than your monthly salary. If you suffer from a tight financial situation, you may gamble in order to try to ‘make ends meet,’ even though your gambling means your financial situation is ultimately worsened. You are also more likely to ‘chase’ money you have lost in prior bets when you earn a low wage.

#4. Your personal traits

People who exhibit an impulsive personality are more likely to gamble. You are also more likely to gamble if you tie your sense of self-esteem to your gambling addiction. Furthermore, you are also more likely to gamble if you use gambling as a way to escape your problems in life.

#5. Family history

You are more likely to gamble if you started to gamble at an early age. You are also more likely to gamble if you have a family history of drug abuse, alcoholism or mental illness. The odds of developing an addiction to gambling are also increased when you suffered a traumatic experience as a child. You are also more likely to gamble if you experience a major life change such as divorce, retirement or if your spouse passes away.

Gambling and gender differences

There does exist prominent gender differences when it comes to gambling addiction. For instance, women engage in gambling as a way of escaping from painful situations and emotions in their lives. In contrast, men are more likely to gamble due to their competitive nature or due to the exciting sensation gambling causes for them.

The development of a gambling addiction is typically much quicker for women than it is for men. However, men are more likely to develop an addiction to gambling at an earlier age than women.

Although males are more likely to experience an addiction to gambling, women are believed to be catching up with their male peers in terms of the quantity of their numbers who have developed an addiction to gambling.

Gambling and age differences

Age is a major factor when it comes to the development of a gambling addiction. The gambling industry has been known to deliberately target elderly people in their advertising messages. Elderly people are more vulnerable to developing an addiction to gambling due to major life changes taking place such as retirement and the loss of a spouse. Many elderly people turn to gambling as a way of escaping boredom and reality.

However, teens are also highly vulnerable to developing an addiction to gambling. This is due to teens’ level of brain development. Like the elderly, teens are also more likely to turn to gambling due to boredom and as a way of boosting self-esteem. Teens are also subject to peer pressure and the need to be viewed as ‘cool.’ Teens are also exposed to more gambling advertising messages than the rest of us due to more time being spent on social media, video games, TV programmes, the Internet and at sporting events.

Advice for clinicians

If you are a clinician, know that you will likely treat gambling addicts for non-gambling conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse or eating disorders. Gambling is an invisible disease, so unless you make the correct enquiries, it’s unlikely you will diagnose the existence of a gambling addiction.

The first step to take is to ask your patient if he or she ever gambles. Do not term this as a ‘gambling problem’ as this may raise their defences. If your patient confirms he or she gambles, ask them how they like to gamble. Is it via a casino, online, in a better shop or playing ‘scratch cards’? Then you must determine how often and for what duration your patient has gambled for.

Then you must ask whether gambling has caused problems for your patient. These problems may include work problems, relationship problems or health problems. Since gambling is a ‘hidden addiction,’ you must discover the extent of the problem through asking the correct questions when your patient’s defences are lowered. We also recommend you utilise Gamblers Anonymous’ 20 questions in diagnosing the existence of a gambling addiction.

Overcoming a gambling addiction

Now we outline 6 ways you can address your addiction to gambling. The below advice should not replace the need to seek out individualised professional help.

#1. Realise you cannot win and realise the destruction that gambling has on your life

This step is about admitting you have a problem. If you are in denial about your gambling addiction, it’s unlikely any form of treatment will work. Most gambling addicts do not seek help until they’ve hit ‘rock bottom.’ Rock bottom may translate to job loss, marital breakdown, suicidal ideation and financial meltdown. We urge to seek out help well before you hit rock bottom.

#2. Get something else in your life to replace gambling

We urge you to get something else in your life to replace gambling with. Every time you experience the urge to gamble, you must not gamble but instead do whatever this ‘something else’ is. This strategy works, but you have got to want it to work, otherwise the urge to gambling will result in you continuing to gamble. You must not allow the urge to gamble to overcome your determination to engage in this alternative activity. If you stand firm, your determination to quit will overcome the urge to continue gambling.

Alternative activities we recommend include running, swimming, meditation, taking up new hobbies or socialising with friends who do not engage in gambling. All of these tasks promote dopamine production. Recall addictive behaviours act as the ‘path of least resistance’ when it comes to dopamine release. Over time, engaging in other activities will weaken the neural pathways that encourage your gambling addiction and thus take over gambling as the ‘path of least resistance’ when it comes to dopamine release and hence your preferred option to experiencing pleasure.

Activities that cause the release of dopamine includes:

  • Ticking off tasks on a ‘to do list’ – dopamine is released when we complete tasks to a level of satisfaction
  • Create something. Creating something is known to result in dopamine release. Take up hobbies that result in the creation of something tangible e.g. arts, crafts, drawing or photography
  • Exercise. This increases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Read the book ‘Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’ by John Ratey
  • Eat foods containing tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid and the building block of dopamine. Foods high in tyrosine include avocados, red bananas, chocolate, eggs, almonds, green tea, milk, water melon and yogurt
  • Decrease caffeine intake. Once you drink caffeine, you will experience an initial kick, but eventually your dopamine levels will decrease
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate. This prevents overthinking or ‘monkey mind’
  • Take supplements that are known to increase dopamine levels e.g. acetyl tyrosine, curcumin, rhodiola rosea, magnesium oil, 500mg vitamin C, L-thiamine and Gingko Biloba
  • Toxic cleansing via getting enough sleep and avoiding sugary foods. Sugary foods disrupt dopamine levels. Sugar acts in a similar way to other addictive substances and behaviours, so cut out sugar as much as you can. Take chromium picolinate to help you eliminate sugar cravings

It’s also vital that you are able to ‘keep a streak going’. This means continuing an activity over many months or even years. To achieve this, mark off your calendar to ensure you do not avoid keeping the dopamine activity up over the medium and long term.

#3. Join a 12 step programme/support group

This is the approach adopted by Gamblers Anonymous. You are required to admit that you are powerless over your addiction to gambling. You must then reach out to a ‘higher power’ for help. 12 step meetings take place throughout the week and you are generally expected to attend at least one a week. During these meetings, gamblers discuss their progress ‘in recovery.’

#4. Sign up to CBT sessions

CBT stands for ‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.’ This form of therapy attempt to alter your thoughts and ‘core beliefs’ relating to your gambling addiction. It’s unlikely you will be consciously aware of these beliefs before you attend CBT sessions. CBT helps you verbalise these beliefs so you may then challenge and exchange these beliefs for healthier alternatives that do not fuel your addiction to gambling.

Some of these destructive beliefs that fuel gambling addiction include:

  • I am more likely to win than other people
  • I am a skilled gambler
  • I can control the outcome of bets (illusory control)
  • If I win more than once in a row, I am on a ‘winning streak’ that’s likely to continue (known as the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’)
  • If I perform a certain ritual, I am more likely to win
  • If I lose, I can win back my losses by gambling again (chasing losses)

CBT is a medium term commitment. Sessions are typically last for an hour and must be completed over a ten-week period. You must also complete ‘homework’ during the week. This is typically in the form of keeping a ‘thought diary.’

#5. Consider taking medications

Gambling addicts are known to suffer from depression due to lower levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. SSRIs antidepressants raise serotonin levels by preventing serotonin reuptake in the brain. This causes a glut of serotonin to build up making the person feel happier and less depressed. This is known to decrease the occurrence of gambling.

#6. Consider taking psychotherapy sessions

You may consider taking formal psychotherapy sessions. These sessions will help you identify events in your past that may be causing your addiction to gambling. Psychotherapy will also help you overcome negative emotions tied to your current or past addiction to gambling. These emotions typically include hopelessness, shame and guilt. In time, psychotherapy will help you overcome these negative emotions so you are able to move on with your life.

Original source kindly provided by:

The Ultimate Guide to Gambling Addiction: This guide explains in depth how gambling addiction may arise and offers practical steps to overcoming gambling addiction.


Engineers of addiction: Slot machines perfected addictive gaming.

fruit machine factory

You can play a slot machine in Las Vegas before you’ve even reached baggage claim: there are tiny slots parlors in every terminal of McCarran International Airport. Once you pick up your rental car, you can stop for gas and play slots at a convenience store. And that’s all before you’ve even reached your hotel-casino, which if it follows the modern standard dedicates roughly 80 percent of its gaming floor to slots, and only 20 percent to table games.

Bally Technologies, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of slot machines, is headquartered 3 miles south of the Strip. When I visited Bally in mid-March, Mike Trask, the company’s senior marketing manager, walked me into the company’s showroom to play some games. Compared to the cacophony of a casino floor, Bally’s showroom was practically monastic, the lights low and the room silent apart from the soothing hum of two dozen hibernating consoles.

Trask, a tall man in his 30s with dirty-blond hair, showed me the company’s new Friends-themed game, installed on Bally’s ProWave cabinet, a slick, 42-inch curved console. Friends celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and the company hopes to tap some of that nostalgia. “That person, that girl who watched every episode of Friends when it came out, is our demographic,” Trask said, standing alongside the cabinet.

I took a seat in front of the unit, and Trask touched a logo on the display’s upper corner, selected a box on the display that ensured I would get a bonus round, and told me to hit the spin button. I did, and a pared down version of the show’s theme song played, the NBC sextet smiled at me from the prime of their youth, and five reels of symbols — a Central Perk decal, a guitar, screenshots of characters — scrolled down the screen. The Wheel of Fortune-style bonus round featured a clip of Rachel saying, “Happy birthday, Grandma!” wearing a wedding dress.

Bally assembles all of its machines in a factory warehouse next to its game studios and tucked behind its Vegas corporate headquarters. Last year, Scientific Games, Bally’s parent company, shipped out more than 17,000 new units. On my visit, hundreds of freshly assembled slot machine shells, featuring the industry standard black exterior and jutting dashboards, lined the warehouse walls.

A tag attached to each cabinet indicated its destination: Oklahoma, Washington, Michigan, Canada. Only a handful were destined for Vegas casinos, a sign of gaming’s national and international expansion. Scientific Games acquired Bally last year for $5 billion. At the time, 23 states had legalized gambling, a heavily taxable industry, to quickly infuse deficient coffers.

But the expansion of gaming generally is the expansion of slot machines specifically — the modern casino typically earns 70 to 80 percent of its revenue from slots, a stratospheric rise from the 1970s when slots comprised 50 percent or less. New York, the latest state to introduce gaming, doesn’t even allow table games, and Pennsylvania, now the third-largest gaming state in the country after Nevada and New Jersey, only later allowed table games in an amendment to its legislation. And increasingly, the psychological and technical systems originally built for slot machines — including reward schedules and tracking systems — have found admirers in Silicon Valley.

In the factory, Trask and I passed a ProWave cabinet, a design released by Bally in mid-2014 that features a 32-inch concave screen, like an even more curved Samsung TV. Trask claimed that putting the same exact games on curved screens increased gameplay 30-80 percent. I asked him why that was. “It looks cool; it’s incredibly clear,” he said in a tone suggesting a guess as good as any. Game designers are charged with somehow summoning the ineffable allure of electronic spectacle — developing a system that is both simple and endlessly engaging, a machine to pull and trap players into a finely tuned cycle of risk and reward that keeps them glued to the seat for hours, their pockets slowly but inevitably emptying. As we stood over the gaming cabinet, Trask told me about the floor of the MGM, home to 2,500 machines and hundreds of different games. Trask’s mission, as he saw it, was simple: “Our job is to get you to choose our game.”

slot machine factory

The prototypical slot machine was invented in Brooklyn in the mid-1800s — it was a cash register-sized contraption and used actual playing cards. Inserting a nickel and pressing a lever randomized the cards in the small display window, and depending on the poker hand that appeared, a player could win items from the establishment that housed the machine. In 1898, Charles Fey developed the poker machine into the Liberty Bell machine, the first true slot with three reels and a coin payout. Each reel had 10 symbols, giving players a 1-in-1,000 chance of hitting the 50-cent jackpot if three Liberty Bells lined up. The three-reel design was a hit in bars and became a casino standard, but for decades gaming houses considered them little more than a frivolity — distractions for the wives of table-game players. Accordingly, casinos were dense with table games, and slots were relegated to the periphery.

That began to change in the 1960s, when Bally introduced the electromechanical slot machine. The new rig let players insert multiple coins on a single bet, and machines could multiply jackpots as well as offer up smaller, but more frequent wins. Multi-line play was introduced: alongside the classic horizontal lineup, players could now win with diagonal and zig-zagged combinations. The new designs sped up gameplay and breathed life into the stagnating industry.

William “Si” Redd, the bolo tie-wearing Mississippi native who oversaw some of Bally’s new projects during the era, was instrumental to that renaissance. “The player came to win,” he said, “he didn’t come to lose, [so] speed it up, give him more, be more liberal. Let him win more, but then [you make money] still with the speeding up, because it was extra liberal.” In other words, the new machines lowered slots’ volatility — gaming parlance for the frequency at which a player experiences big wins and losses.

The casino floor of the Boulder Club, early 1950s. Image courtesy of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

In the 1970s, Redd left Bally and founded another gaming manufacturer that was later renamed IGT. IGT specialized in video gambling machines, or video poker. Video poker machines could be designed to have even lower volatility, paying players back small amounts on more hands. And video poker’s interactive elements made them extra engrossing, turning them into an enormous success: people lined up to play the first machines, and the game’s ability to command a player’s complete concentration for hours gave it a reputation as the “crack cocaine” of gambling.

“If you were to take $100 and play slots, you’d get about an hour of play, but video poker was designed to give you two hours of play for that same $100,” Redd said at the time, instructing game designers to lengthen the time it took a poker machine to consume a player’s money.

Redd also acquired the patent for the newly created Random Number Generator, which computerized the odds-calculator behind the spinning reels and allowed game makers to control volatility. A modern slot machine, at its core, is nothing more than an RNG going through millions or billions of numbers at all times. When a player hits a spin button, they are simply stopping the RNG at a particular moment. Everything beyond that — the music, the mini-games, the actual appearance of spinning reels, Rachel, Monica, and the rest of the gang keeping you company — is window dressing to keep you hitting spin.

fruit machine factory

IGT now makes 93 percent of the world’s video poker machines and is the largest manufacturer of video slots in the world. Its Wheel of Fortune franchise spans every kind of slot machine — reels, curved screens, and massive installations with enormous physical flourishes. On my visit to their Las Vegas offices, I asked Jacob Lanning, IGT’s vice president of product management, what makes a good game. “If you can figure that out, you’ve got a job,” he said. Trask had told me something similar: “If we knew what the perfect game was, we’d just keep making that game over and over.”

Perhaps no one has uncovered the Platonic ideal of the slot machine, but certain principles undergird most games. First, there’s a vague aesthetic uniformity: colors tend toward the primary or pastel, franchise tie-ins are a must, and the game soundtracks are typically in a major key. Meanwhile, the multi-line wins introduced by Bally have become an unintelligible tangle: modern slots offer players upwards of 50 and sometimes 100 different winning combinations — so many that without the corresponding lights, sounds, and celebration, most casual and even advanced players would have trouble recognizing whether they’d won or lost.

“If we knew what the perfect game was, we’d just keep making that game over and over.”To keep players gambling, all slots rely on the same basic psychological principles discovered by B.F. Skinner in the 1960s. Skinner is famous for an experiment in which he put pigeons in a box that gave them a pellet of food when they pressed a lever. But when Skinner altered the box so that pellets came out on random presses — a system dubbed variable ratio enforcement — the pigeons pressed the lever more often. Thus was born the Skinner box, which Skinner himself likened to a slot machine.

The Skinner box works by blending tension and release — the absence of a pellet after the lever is pressed creates expectation that finds release via reward. Too little reward and the animal becomes frustrated and stops trying; too much and it won’t push the lever as often.

Like video poker, most multi-line slots rarely pay large jackpots, instead doling out smaller wins frequently. “They’re imitating the formula of video poker, but they’re doing it in a slot formula,” Natasha Schüll, an associate professor at MIT who has researched slots for 15 years, says. In 2012, Princeton University Press published Addiction by Design: Machine Gaming in Las Vegas, the culmination of her research and a deconstruction of the slot machine.

Schüll says modern slot machines essentially continued the trend started by Redd so as not to jolt players too intensely in the form of losses — or wins. “Too-big wins have been shown to stop play because it’s such an intense shift in the situation that you’ll kind of pause, you’ll stop, you’ll take your money and leave,” says Schüll. Stretching out gameplay with minor rewards, Schüll says, “allows you to get in the flow of, another little win, another little win.”

As a result, modern slots pay out on approximately 45 percent of all spins, instead of the 3 percent of traditional slots. “The sense of risk is completely dampened,” Schüll says. “Designers call them drip feed games.”

That analysis is supported by a 2010 American Gaming Association white paper. “Lower-volatility games often have greater appeal in ‘locals markets’ than in destination resort markets like Las Vegas or Atlantic City…Customers tend to play these games for longer periods of time…” In other words, lower volatility games paved the way for gaming’s wild expansion nationwide.

The advent of bonus games has also helped bolster slot machines’ popularity: instead of just winning money, certain combinations can trigger mini games. In the IGT showroom, Lanning showed me the company’s forthcoming Entourage game, in which a bonus game has the player match portraits of characters. In the industry, it’s called a pick-em bonus. “Those are the most popular features,” Melissa Price, the senior vice president of gaming for Caesar’s Entertainment, told me. “Customers enjoy ‘perceived skill’ experience.”

And then, there’s the emotional appeal: Price told me the company commissioned a study to find out why people love the Wheel of Fortune line so much. “People said it was as much about the brand as anything,” she said. “People said, ‘That brand — I used to hear it in the living room at my grandma’s house, I’d hear that wheel spinning because my grandma watched it. It reminds me of my grandma.’ I mean, how can you compete with that?”

slot machines

Price and I spoke on the floor of Harrah’s Las Vegas at 9:00AM — the slots players were already at their machines, or perhaps they’d been there all night. Last year, Harrah’s parent company, Caesar’s Entertainment, declared bankruptcy as a consequence of overextension and growing competition. During proceedings, creditors appraised Caesar’s vast store of customer data as the company’s most valuable asset, worth about $1 billion.

Harrah’s pioneered the now industry standard Total Rewards player tracking system, first with a punchcard program introduced in 1985, then with a digital program and magnetic cards in the 1990s. Slots were easy to track, and stood at the very center of the program. The system grew even more sophisticated under the auspices of former CEO Gary Loveman. Loveman arrived at Harrah’s fresh from teaching at Harvard Business School, and he brought a methodical business savvy to an industry that, in many ways, had spent decades winging it.

Caesar’s vast store of customer data has been valued at about $1 billionBefore the tracking system, the player management was as sophisticated as watching which players spent a lot of money and comping amenities to encourage them to spend more. “We all looked around and said, there’s got to be a more automated way to do that,” said Price.

Price and I stood behind a woman playing IGT’s Ellen Degeneres game. Ellen’s head whizzed down the reels on the parabolic display in high definition. As long as the player had her Total Rewards card inserted in the machine, every time she hit the spin button the system recorded the size of her bet, what game it was spent on, at what time, how long she’d been playing for, and so on, until she hits the “Cash Out” button on the machine, at which point all the data is encapsulated in her file, along with all the other games she has ever played at a Caesar’s casino.

Player tracking systems revealed more than a pit boss ever could: over time, Harrah’s can create a portrait of the person’s risk profile, including how much money a player typically loses before they stop playing and what kinds of gifts to give them to keep them on the gaming floor. Sometimes, that can be a penthouse suite; other times, it can be as little as giving a player $15 in cash. In 2012, This American Life charted the lurid and unsettling extreme of how these systems can be used in a story about a Harrah’s in Indiana that enticed a woman to keep playing with unlimited hotel suites, diamond jewelry, and free trips to the Kentucky Derby. The perks fueled her gaming habit until she was $125,000 in debt.

Every casino today has a form of the data system invented at Harrah’s — most of them are now built by Bally. “We are the envy of probably every consumer products industry out there because of the amount of data that we really have on our players,” said Price. Newer systems can even visualize heat maps of casino activity — an operator can see precisely how much is being spent in a specific time period in localized areas.

The data also vindicates Redd’s approach: the small slots customer, over a lifetime of spending, is just as valuable as the high roller. “The slot player was the forgotten customer,” Loveman told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in 2010. “I had to be willing to be unsexy in this,” Loveman added. “I can take you to a casino that would have a lot of young beautiful people in there and you would say, ‘Man, this is a happening place.’ I could take you to another place where there are a lot of people who look like your parents. The latter would be a lot more profitable than the former. My job is to make the latter.”

casino floor worker

After my trip to Vegas, I visited the Sugarhouse casino in Philadelphia, on the bank of the Delaware River. Sugarhouse opened in 2010 and is one of 12 casinos that turned Pennsylvania into a gaming powerhouse after legalization in 2004. The casino’s interior — clear passageways, a clean line of sight from the eastern to western walls — brimmed with activity on a Tuesday evening. Sugarhouse squealed with the cacophony of slots and the saccharine melodies sounded like a thousand robots blowing bubbles. (The slot manufacturer Silicon Gaming decided at one point that soundtracks in the key of C were the most agreeable.)

In 11 years of legalized gaming, the state has earned $3 billion from table games and $17 billion from slots. Table players at Sugarhouse made their wagers at an island amidst an ocean of slots. As I made my way through the casino, I struck up a conversation with two slot players: Diane Singleton, a 45-year-old retiree; and Jack, who refused have his last name published. The two were playing Fu Dao Le, whose theme can only be described as Cherubic Chinese Babies. The game was loaded onto a ProWave cabinet, and a red cursive Bally logo hung in the upper right corner of the screen.

I asked what they enjoyed about the game. Jack said that unlike other games, Fu Dao Le is “highly interactive.” He likes the game’s “kooky stuff; you can touch the display,” he said, touching the image of cherubic babies above the reels, causing them to laugh with a Pillsbury Doughboy-like giggle.

Jack and Singleton say they’ve both earned “Black Cards” through Sugarhouse’s player tracking system, meaning they’ve each spent more than $10,000 here. Jack says the casino has comped them four cruises so far; Singleton says she threw her card away because it reminded her of how much money she’d spent. I had more questions, but at a certain point it became apparent that Singleton was no longer listening.

“She’s in the zone right now,” said Jack.

The “zone” is at the core of Schüll’s theory about the success and proliferation of slot machines. She heard the term over and over again in her 15 years of research — the players repeatedly told her that they played to zone out, to escape thought.

To understand the zone, you first have to understand “flow,” the concept developed by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe a hyperfocused state of absorption. During “flow,” time speeds up (hours feel like minutes) or slows down (reactions can be made instantly) and the mind reaches a state of almost euphoric equilibrium. Schüll, in her book, describes Csikszentmihaly’s four criteria of flow: “[F]irst, each moment of the activity must have a little goal; second, the rules for attaining that goal must be clear; third, the activity must give immediate feedback; fourth, the tasks of the activity must be matched with challenge.” For most of their history, slots easily fulfilled the first two criteria; after lowering volatility, they fulfilled the third criterion, and with the introduction of multiple lines, endless bonus rounds, and the occasional mini-game, they finally fulfilled the four criteria.

The “zone” is hyperfocused, neurotransmitters abuzz, but directed toward a numbness with no goal in particularThe “zone” is flow through a lens darkly: hyperfocused, neurotransmitters abuzz, but directed toward a numbness with no goal in particular. When Singleton emerged from the zone, I asked her again why she found the slots so compelling. “I lost my husband two years ago to throat cancer,” she explained. “He was the love of my life, and I started doing this just to — I was out of my mind and spent a lot of time at the cancer center.” Jack had lost his son to pancreatic cancer. As they told their stories, Jack and Singleton hit the spin buttons and the machines blared so loudly that their words were lost in the noise.

Singleton says she never recovered from the pain of her loss, and that’s why she keeps coming back to the slots. Jack echoed that sentiment: “I don’t have to think. And I know I can’t win.”

“Right, so you know that,” said Singleton.

“Every now and then…you get something,” Jack agreed.

“But it’s never what you lost.”

“Because I don’t care whether I win 38 cents or 600 dollars.”

“You just want to see them again.”

Singleton rifled through her wallet filled with $100 bills. “I’ll be right back, guys,” she said, and went off to get change.

slot machine addict

Back at the Bally showroom, Trask and I had sat in front of the company’s new Duck Dynasty game. “There’s never been more slot machines in the world than there are today,” he said. “And that’s proliferation not just in the US, but abroad.” His hand rested on the game’s display, his index finger next to a reel symbol of a cast member sticking his tongue out and playing air guitar. Scientific Games’ market now includes 50 countries on six continents. This spring, the company announced it was planning on providing 5,000 of the 16,500 machines recently authorized in Greece.

The industry is also preparing for the eventual deterioration of its key middle-aged demographic and competition from free-to-play mobile games. “People only have so much leisure time and there’s a lot of activity on iPhones,” Price told me. At one point in the Bally’s warehouse, Trask said, “You know how you get people younger to gamble? Hand them a fucking telephone.”

The industry seems to be working on the same hunch. In 2011, Caesar’s acquired Playtika, an online casino games company that offers free and paid mobile games. A year later, IGT acquired the free casino games app DoubleDown, which runs as both a stand-alone mobile app and through Facebook. The company now offers online table games and a good sample of its portfolio of slots, including Wheel of Fortune, to mobile players. Earlier this year, the gaming giant appointed former Zynga studio manager Jim Veevart as DoubleDown’s vice president of games. And last year, Churchill Downs Incorporated, which runs seven casinos in addition to its Kentucky Derby racetrack, acquired the free games company Big Fish Games.

Meanwhile, the tech sector is adopting the principles of slot design for its own purposes. In the early aughts, the tech writer Julian Dibbell devised the concept of ludocapitalism, a term inspired by watching World of Warcraft players mine gold in the game to making a living in real life. Ludocapitalism was an attempt to explain the growing gamification of society through technology. Dibbell admits the concept’s parameters are vague, but at its most basic it identifies that capitalism can harness the human play drive for better or worse —  and that increasingly, games aren’t allegories that say something about our lives; they are our lives. As people move toward more data-driven existences where points are accumulated from health apps (the subject of Schüll’s latest research) and status is accumulated in identifiable quantities on social media, gamification becomes so total that it can sometimes mask whether what we’re doing has any inherent utility outside the game that surrounds it.

Within gamification, Schüll also identifies slotification: we slay an endless procession of monsters with no progress of narrative, mine endless digital coins for no other reason than their aggregation, hit spin on the slot machine with no big payoff. “It’s this ludic loop of, open and close, open and close; you win, you lose, nothing changes,” Schüll says. Writing in The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal tapped Schüll’s concept of the ludic loop to explain the inextricable entrancement of flipping through Facebook photos: you push a button over and over, primed for an eternally fleeting informational reward.

fruit machine addicts

A more exact replica of a slot may be Tinder. The mechanics of the dating app mirror the experience of playing slots: the quick swiping results in an intermittent reward of connection, followed by the option to either message your potential date or “Keep playing.” Tinder recently launched a premium version that allows the user to undo an accidental “not interested” swipe, essentially monetizing mistakes made while in the automatic rhythm of the zone.

“I can’t tell you how often I’ve been approached since the publication of my book by Silicon Valley types who say things like, ‘Wow, the gambling industry really seems to have a handle on this attention retention problem that we’re all facing,'” Schüll told me. “‘Will you come tell our designers how to do a better job?’”

Last year, Schüll heard from Nir Eyal, a tech entrepreneur who founded and sold two startup companies that produce advertisements in free-to-play games. “[Eyal] showed me his copy of my book, and it had, like, hundreds of hot pink sticky notes coming out of it,” she told me. In his 2014 book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, Eyal laid out his “Hook Model” of product development that works on basic behaviorist principles: a trigger turns into an action turns into a variable reward turns into a further personal investment back into the product. Last year, he invited Schüll to speak at his Habit Summit, hosted at Stanford. Schüll gave a talk on the “dark side of habits,” placing slot machines on the undesirable end of the habit spectrum.

Eyal told me he invited Schüll to offer a less self-congratulatory, “rah-rah” voice to the conference. Although the conference focused on how to build habit-forming tech products, “These techniques — they have a dark side,” he said. “If not used appropriately, or if used for nefarious purposes, then they don’t always benefit the user.”

Still, it was difficult to determine whether Schüll’s slot research has been received as a warning or a how-to guide within tech. Eyal criticized slot machines for what he said was a business model dependent on addicted players — “that industry, I have a problem with,” he said. But Hooked is in many ways tech’s version of Addiction by Design: his model of successful product design is a loop going from “trigger” to “action” to “variable reward” to “investment” and back again. In his trigger section, Eyal uses Instagram to illustrate how emotional pain can be a powerful motivator to use a product — in that app’s case, the mostly insubstantial pain of lost memories. He writes, “As product designers it is our goal to solve these problems and eliminate pain…users who find a product that alleviates their pain will form strong, positive associations with the product over time.”

I asked Eyal what distinguishes mobile games or dating apps from slot machines. He gave a range of answers that sounded at once comprehensive and somewhat defensive — that tech addictions never really plummet to the league of gambling addiction; that people prone to addiction will be addicted no matter what — before finally admitting that, in a sense, everything functions like a slot machine.

“All content needs to be made interesting. What you’re doing as a writer is introducing variable rewards into your story. Everything that engages us, all pieces of content are engineered to be interesting,” he said. “Movies aren’t real life, books aren’t real life, your article isn’t real life. It’s manufactured to pull us one sentence after another through mystery, through the unknown. It’s a slot machine. Your article is a slot machine. It has to be variable. So just because an experience introduces variability and mystery — that’s good!”

“I think the answer is, it’s okay to addict people as long as your business model doesn’t depend on it,” he said, as if finally finding the answer to a problem that had long seemed without a solution. “That’s the answer,” he added. “That’s the answer.”

Correction: a previous version of this article stated that modern slots have a 45 percent payback rate. In fact, they pay out on approximately 45 percent of all spins. In addition Nir Eyal’s Hooked was published in 2014, not 2003.

Photography by Tiffany Brown Anderson

Edited by Michael Zelenko


The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Addiction

video game addiction

At Cassiobury Court, although we are better known for our alcohol rehab treatment, today we wish to discuss the topic of video game addiction.

Why? Because video game addiction affects many hundreds of thousands of people and so this topic is simply too prevalent to ignore.

Although video game addiction is not formally recognised by the current DSM-5, the condition is undoubtedly a problem that is capable of causing real and lasting damage to sufferers and their families.

Learning objectives

By the time you have completed reading this guide, you will have gained an understanding of video game addiction.

The key learning objectives of this guide include:

  • The definition of a video game addiction
  • The historical context of video game addiction
  • The criteria for a gaming addiction
  • Video game addiction as a coping skill
  • Physical symptoms associated with video game addiction
  • The glorification of gaming addiction
  • Gaming addiction and age differences
  • The neuroscience of gaming addiction
  • The science of cravings, or the expectation of rewards
  • The need for family therapy
  • Quitting video games
  • Further resources

What is gaming addiction?

Video game addiction is characterised by the excessive use of video games so that it begins to interfere with the sufferer’s daily life. People suffering from video game addiction isolate themselves from family and friends, often for 10-14 hours per day whilst they engage in video games. Some gaming addicts even wear nappies so they do not have to go to the toilet whilst playing.

This extreme behaviour often disrupts the sufferer’s education, wand other important ‘real world’ obligations. Video game addiction is also known to exist alongside a number of ‘co-occurring’ conditions such as social anxiety and substance misuse.

A gaming addiction can be described as the excessive use of video games resulting in social, occupational or academic impairment. A gaming addiction is a behavioural addiction. However, video game addiction does not feature in the DSM-5. However, the DSM-5 signposts video game addiction as a ‘condition requiring further study.’

The DSM-5 was released in 2013, and there is a good chance video game addiction will be formally recognised as a behavioural addiction in the DSM’s next iteration.

The history of video gaming addiction

The introduction of the Nintendo in the 1980s and the PlayStation in the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in video gamers. The early 2000s saw a dramatic improvement in graphics, particularly for ‘first person’ role playing games, where users can almost imagine themselves as ‘real world’ participants in these video games.

The criteria for video game addiction

Since a gaming addiction is not classified by the DMS-5, there exists no official criteria for the disorder. However, clinicians often utilise the criteria for gambling addiction when diagnosing the existence of a gaming addiction.

The criteria includes:

  1. A pre-occupation with video gaming: this is when the person frequently thinks about gaming even though he or she desires to prevent these thoughts from occurring
  2. Tolerance: the gaming addiction requires longer or more frequent gaming ‘sessions’ in order to experience the desired pleasurable state
  3. Withdrawal: the person experiences psychological withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness or irritability when video gaming is stopped
  4. Video gaming is an escapism: the person plays video games to improve his or her mood and to escape emotional problems
  5. Lying: the person attempts to conceal his or her video game usage and lies to family members to achieve this end
  6. Loss of control: the person is not able to stop gaming despite a strong desire to quit
  7. Illegal acts: the person breaks the law in order to play video  games. This could include stealing a video game or downloading a video game illegally. Some gaming addicts have physically injured their loved ones in order to access video games e.g. Lonut Slavin, a 17-year-old from Romania who murdered his mother in 2010 because his mother attempted to stop him from playing video games
  8. Willingness to damage loving or professional relationships: the person plays video games despite losing a relationship as a result
  9. Bailout: The person turns to family for financial help as a result of video gaming

Are video games designed to be addictive?

Video games are undoubtedly designed to be addictive. For instance, video games are designed to be difficult yet achievable. Games also take advantage of ‘near misses’ in the same way as gambling slot machines do. Near misses motivate us to ‘try again’. Video games give the player multiple ‘lives’ to encourage the user to ‘try again.’

Video games also take advantage of Pavlovian conditioning. Again, this is very similar to the way gambling games are designed. For instance, when you win, the game makes lots of exciting noises, and when you lose, a noise associated with negativity is emitted.

Such features are known as ‘hooks.’ Other hooks include the ability to obtain a high score and the achievement of small rewards in the form of completed ‘levels.’

The social aspect of gaming

Modern video games are also linked to the Internet. This injects a social element into video games. Many video gamers suffer from social anxiety. This condition prevents them from making meaningful ‘real world’ relationships. However, since they do not meet the people they play video games with in real life when playing online, they are not prohibited by their social anxiety.

This means they may feel accepted when playing video games in ways that are not achievable in the real world. This feeling of acceptance fulfils a need in the video game addict’s primal desires as a social animal. This social aspect of modern video gaming also makes it a highly addictive activity.

Other addictive cues and triggers

Other factors that make video games addictive include:

  • Guilds and raids
  • Creation of an avatar
  • No beginning and no end to games
  • No face to face element

Video game addiction as a coping skill

All addictions are essentially a coping skill and video game addiction is no exception to the rule. Addictions are maladaptations, but addictions are still essentially a coping skill. Whilst the person’s addiction continues to serve a purpose, the individual will not take the required action to get rid of the addiction. It’s thus important to determine in therapy how video games help the person ‘cope’, and what is this ‘something’ that the game is helping him or her cope with.

Often, video games help sufferers numb and alleviate anxieties that were caused by traumatic events in their past. An addiction to video gaming is thus a bona fide coping skill. When you remove the coping skill, this assumes the person will not be able to ‘cope.’

It’s thus important to arm the sufferer with alternative coping skills during therapy sessions. During formal psychotherapy sessions, the therapist will help the sufferer better process these traumatic events in different ways. The therapist also needs to help his or her client fulfill these needs in healthier ways.

The dangers of DIY therapy

If the coping skill of playing video games is removed before the underlying mental issue is dealt with, it’s highly likely another maladaptive coping skill will arise. This could include substance misuse or another behavioural addiction such as problem gambling.

The question to ask is: if gaming addiction is a coping skill, what do you replace it with? Many of these people suffering from a video game addiction play these games for around 6-12 hours each day. When they suddenly stop playing these games, they will suddenly have lots of ‘free time’ on their hands. It’s important they develop alternative strategies, or they could relapse or even begin to abuse substances or engage in other behavioural addictions such as gambling. Again, this is because the coping skill has been removed without any provision for alternatives.

Transformation of character

All addictions are characterised by a ‘need that must be fulfilled.’ Gaming addiction allows the sufferer to feel powerful and important. This allows the sufferer to ‘take them away from themselves.’ The addict gets to be ‘somebody else’ when playing video games. This transformation of character is typical of all addictions, including drug and gambling addiction. For instance, a person may feel shy in social situations. When they drink alcohol or take cocaine they boost their confidence so they may become who they want to be. There is another example of a need that must be fulfilled.

The dangers of unfulfilled needs

When this need is not fulfilled, the person feels worthless and undesirable. Gaming addiction fulfils this need to feel desirable and worthy by allowing the person to experience life as a warrior or some sort of hero. With the use of gaming, the sufferer gets to be who he or she wants to be, and this desirable identity is typically perceived to be stronger than the sufferer’s true identity.

This desirable emotional state associated with gaming addiction is easily accessed at the click of a few buttons. The gaming addict will repeat this process over and over again until an addiction is firmly established. However, the gaming addict will deny the existence of this addiction precisely because it helps him or her feel ‘good’. He or she may reason that “when I get to play this game, I feel strong, powerful and in control. It makes me feel like a god.” It’s key for the therapist to help the sufferer gain these positive emotions associated with power and control but in healthy ways.

The glorification of gaming addiction

Today there exists a sort of glorification when it comes to gaming addiction. There are a number of ‘professional gamers’ who make a living from playing video games and countless more men and women who aim to give up their ‘day job’ to become a ‘professional gamer.’ However, it’s clearly very difficult to achieve this status of ‘video game star.’

Most people are simply not going to reach a stage where they can make a living from their gaming. However, they may still convince themselves that they can because playing video games is ‘fun.’ They have the illusion that ‘one day I won’t have to go to work or spend many years studying when I can just play a video game and make money’. Many of these people will even drop out of college, school or university based on this dangerous belief that they might one day become a ‘video game star.’ Gaming addiction thus becomes viewed as a profession. These people may know that they are addicts, but if they can make money at it, then everything is somehow OK.

Physical symptoms associated with video game addiction

We now list a number of physical symptoms associated with video game addiction. These physical symptoms include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Blisters/Callus on fingers and thumbs
  • Dry eyes
  • Migraine headaches
  • Backaches
  • Eating irregularities
  • Failure to attend to personal hygiene & incontinence
  • Sleep disturbances/change in sleep pattern

Gaming addiction and age differences

Gaming addiction may affect people at any age. There exists a common misconception that gaming addiction only arises for young people. However, this belief is far from the truth. Whilst some games are not targeted to any particular age group, some games are designed for a particular age group.

Because of this, even people as old as 50 and 60 may develop an addiction to gaming. For instance, the game ‘Minecraft’ is not targeted to any particular age group, yet hundreds of thousands of people over the age of 40 are thought to be addicted to this game.

The neuroscience of gaming addiction

Everything we do as humans is defined by needs. Our basic needs are to eat, sleep and shelter. However, gaming has become a need for many people. This is when gaming satisfies a major component in people’s lives. When somebody has developed this need ‘to game’, they may become addicted where they do not eat or sleep. They simply play their video games because these games have become more important to them. This is because their addiction to video games overtakes their basic survival needs.

Why? Because video games trigger dopamine production in the nucleus accumbens region of the brain. The nucleus accumbens is responsible for dopamine production and it thus plays a critical role in our decision-making ability. This region is often referred to as the brain’s ‘pleasure centre’ or the ’emotional centre’. The nucleus accumbens is linked to other important parts of the brain such as the frontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and ventral tegmental. Dopamine compels us to perform behaviours that allow us to survive such as eating, drinking, sex and engaging in social interactions. For instance, dopamine compels you to meet a partner in order to have sex, because once you have had sex you will feel good about yourself.

Whenever a reward is experienced, the nucleus accumbens is activated. Dopamine makes rewarding activities such as sex memorable and pleasurable so that we  want to have sex in the future. Video game addiction hijacks this process and fools the addict into believing playing video games is essential for his or her survival.

The structure of the brain

The brain is made up of nerve cells. These nerve cells pass information to one another via chemical messengers. These messengers are known as neurotransmitters. Dopamine is one type of neurotransmitter. When a nerve cell is stimulated, an electrical impulse travels down the ‘axle’ of the nerve cell down to the nerve terminal. This electronic impulse is known as an ‘action potential.’ The nerve terminal is at the bottom of a nerve cell. The electrical impulse triggers the release of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Dopamine is released into the synaptic cleft. The synaptic cleft is the space that separates neurons. Dopamine then binds to a receptor on an adjacent neuron. This allows information to pass between neurons.

The reward pathways see the release of dopamine from the ventral tegmental region of the ‘mid brain.’ This allows messages to travel to the ‘limbic system’ (including the nucleus accumbens or ‘reward center’) and the frontal cortex regions of the brain (known as the mesolimbic dopamine pathway). When a pleasurable activity is anticipated, the ventral tegmental fires off ‘action potentials’ i.e. electric impulses that transport messages from the ventral tegmental to the limbic system and frontal regions of the brain. Dopamine is then released from the nerve terminal of each nerve cell along that particular pathway in the brain. This is known as a ‘pleasure pathway.’ Dopamine then binds to each of the dopamine receptors located at the top of each receiving nerve cell. Researchers believe we experience pleasure when dopamine binds to the receptors of neighbouring nerve cells.

Over time, these nerve cells bind together causing the formation of fixed neural pathways. These pathways serve as a sort of memory. This means you will feel pleasure when you merely think about playing video  games due to the formation of these tangible reward pathways. Once you’ve had a thought enough times, it becomes very difficult not to have this thought. This is how all addictions arises. This is a numbed sense of pleasure that manifests itself in the form of cravings. You will feel anxious until you play video  games. When you abstain from playing video games for many months or years, these pleasure pathways become weaker and weaker until cravings to play video  games are weakened.

A build up of dopamine causing cravings and euphoria

Like other addictions, video game addiction causes dopamine to build up in the synaptic cleft to far greater volumes than is considered ‘normal’. This causes an over stimulation of receptors located on receiving nerve cells. This is responsible for the feeling of euphoria when you play video  games.

Over exposure to video  games desensitises your reward system. Your reaction to ‘normal’ pleasurable stimuli is numbed. The only thing that’s really pleasurable is exposure to video  games. After long-term exposure to video  games, even video  games lose the ability to stimulate your reward system. You will need an ever increased dose of video games in order to function and achieve the desired rewarding effects.

The science of cravings, or the expectation of rewards

A study conducted by Wolfram Schultz illustrates the reaction of the nucleus accumbens to Pavlovian conditioning. In the experiment, a ‘condition stimulus’ was associated with a reward. At the beginning of this experiment this neutral stimulus had no value. However, during the conditioning process the animal subject begans to predict a reward when it was exposed to this stimulus. At the beginning of the experiment, the animal’s dopamine neurons reacted to the reward of food.

When the animal was exposed to the reward, there was a burst of dopamine activity in the animals nucleus accumbens. During the experiment, the animal’s nucleus accumbens stopped reacting to the reward and instead began to react to the ‘condition stimulus’. This proved that the nucleus accumbens doesn’t record actual reward values, but it records ‘expected’ or ‘anticipated rewards.’

Dopamine doesn’t necessarily equate with the feeling we experience when a reward is achieved. Dopamine is triggered before the reward is received.

In this same way, the brain’s goal-direction mechanism is hijacked by the anticipation of receiving a reward by playing video games. When you expect to play video games, there is a huge inflow of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens. This will create a desire to experience the anticipated reward. If the reward is not received, you will feel agitated and ‘on-edge.’

Many of you are thus using video games to fill your survival needs with ‘false fixes.’ This is because video games hijack the brain’s reward centre.

The need for family therapy

Like other addictions, an addiction to gaming typically causes damage to the ‘family system.’ In fact, addiction is known as a family system disorder. For instance, if one family member develops an addiction, it’s not unknown for another family member to develop an addiction, perhaps to attain their caregivers attention or out of spite. This is particularly the case when a parent develops an addiction. The children of the addicted parent are then at an increased risk of developing their own addiction as a result.

Since the family system undergoes damage due to a gaming addiction, it’s important the family as a whole is involved in the therapeutic process. We recommend the family undergoes ‘family therapy’ or to at least sit down together to work these issues out. However, in practice this very rarely occurs and these emotional scars may drive a wedge between family relationships for many years, often unnecessarily. To avoid this, it’s important the family is involved in the gaming addicts treatment as much as possible.

Quitting video games

We now list 13 tips to overcoming your video game addiction for good:

#1. Admit that you have a problem

Any solution is not viable if you are not ready to admit you have a problem. Since gaming addiction is a coping skill, it’s difficult for many gaming addicts to admit they have a problem, at least initially. Adolescent gaming addicts are known to be particularly hostile towards admitting the existence of a problem. So how do you defeat this resistance? The first recommendation is to keep a diary of how your gaming addiction negatively impacts you or your loved-one’s life. For instance, you or your loved one may neglect work or education or cause altercations within the family.

#2. Parents must admit up to their own addiction

Parents of a gaming addict may have an addiction of their own. Their child may have developed a gaming addiction in response to their parent’s addiction. If this is found to be the case, it’s essential the parent takes steps to treat his or her own addiction. The ‘agent of change’ in defeating their child’s video game addiction is thus in them seeking out help themselves. This parental addiction is typically an addiction to the Internet, alcohol or even drugs. The parent must admit they themselves have a problem, and reveal this problem to their child. This generally helps the child work through their issues with video game addiction. Therapy should encourage the family to work together, since the problem is typically a ‘family addiction.’ If the family does not work together, change will not take place.

If the parent is not willing to tackle his or her addiction, the child will conclude his parent is a hypocrite, so why change his or her addiction if the parent is unwilling to change? This conclusion will de-motivate the child to undergo treatment for video game addiction.

#3. Determine the underlying emotional issues that cause the gaming addiction

If you recall, gaming addiction is a maladaptive coping strategy that masks underlying emotional issues and thus caters to a need. Thus, if the gaming addiction is removed, these emotional problems will persist whilst this need goes unfulfilled. It’s thus essential to determine the nature of these underlying emotional issues so that they may be tackled in healthier ways.

The question is, what is this need that causes these emotional problems? In therapy sessions, we ask the client what it feels like to play video games. We determine what the need is that playing video  games satisfies.

Typical needs that playing video games supplies includes:

  • Power
  • Esteem
  • Control
  • Approval
  • Acceptance

This is not intended as a definitive list of needs that are satisfied by playing video games. It’s usual that multiple needs are satisfied by playing video games, and it’s rare playing video games will only satisfy one or two needs. In real life, the video game addict will struggle to fulfil these needs due to being too shy and anxious. When the video game addict plays video games, these needs will be satisfied making him or her fell good.

We recommend you or your loved one keep a ‘needs diary’ and note down the positive reasons for playing video games. This diary will reveal the need that’s being met by playing video games. These needs are often deep psychological needs that may require the video game addict some time to recognise. The video game addict may feel embarrassed to admit that he or she is drawing psychological esteem from playing video games, so it’s essential you put these feelings to rest when you explain the purpose of keeping a ‘needs diary.’

The needs identified by this diary will help the therapist personalise his or her treatment and help the client develop specific strategies that address these emotional needs in healthier ways.

#4. Improve your social skills

If you play video games to fulfil a need, it follows that the video game addict may not be able to fulfil these needs using interpersonal skills. For instance, the video game addict may not be able to attain acceptance due to social anxiety. Thus, the therapist should help the video game addict work on his or her social skills. This means the need to be accepted will be achieved through natural means that do not involve playing video games.

It’s very rare a video game addict will solely suffer from an addiction to video gaming. In reality, these sufferers also suffer from a range of mental issues such as anxiety, depression and traumatic stress disorder. It’s vital these issues are treated to ensure the video game addict is able to function without video games.

#5. Find alternative activities

It’s important to find alternative ‘nonelectronic activities.’ We recommend you socialise, go to parks, play board games, go to the cinema or to museums. It’s vital these activities do not involve the use of electronics in any shape or form. Force yourself to leave the house if you have to.

#6. Encourage ‘real-world’ reward systems

It’s important you encourage your loved one to forge a strong ‘real world’ identity by socialising with real people. Over time, your child will prefer ‘real world’ rewards to rewards achieved by playing video games. We also recommend you stop rewards that complement video gaming e.g. stopping video game magazine subscriptions and not giving your child money to invest in computer hardware updates. You could perhaps use gaming as a reward when you child achieves a ‘real world’ accomplishment such as winning a sports game or achieving a high academic grade. Over time, these competing reward systems will displace the reward system associated with video gaming.

#7. Limit your gaming time

Firstly, you must determine how many hours you or your loved one spend on video games each day. Once you determine this duration, you must work to reduce the amount of time you or your loved one spend playing video  games. Use the time on your mobile phone to work out with accuracy how long you or your loved one spend on video games each day. With this figure in mind, work to reduce this time gradually over a two week period.

Since video game addiction is a highly impulsive behaviour, it’s unlikely you will know just how long you or your loved one spend on video games unless you use a device to track this time. You are likely to be very surprised to learn just how much time you or your loved one are wasting on video games each day. 10 hours a week equates to a massive 3500 hours per year. This is the equivalent of 145 days per year or 39.7% of an entire year!

#8. If your child is a video game addict, be united with your spouse in dealing with the problem

#9. Cut the Internet off after a certain time

We recommend you cut the Internet connection off after a certain time. This includes cutting off the wireless signal so you or your children are not able to play video games ‘in secret.’

#10. Reach out to old friends or find new ones

It’s also important to reach out to friends, no matter how long ago it was when you last saw them. If your child is addicted to video games, it’s important you help your child find new friends or connect current friends. Many children become addicted to video games because they do not have friends. Take your children to social events so that they may find new friends or strengthen bonds with people they already know.

It’s also important to realise that people you play games with in real life or online are not ‘real friends.’ These are simply people who ‘use’ you or children to play games with. Unless these people also show a desire to stop or limit their gaming, find other friends instead.

Due to a lack of meaningful social interactions, many gaming addicts suffer from social anxiety. Overcome this disorder by forcing yourself to go out and talk to real people. Within time, your social anxiety will all but disappear. Therapist say their clients suffering from video game addiction recover from the addiction fairly quickly, However, the video game addiction has caused a powerful social anxiety that’s typically much more difficult to treat.

If your social anxiety is preventing you from making new friends, we recommend you retain the services of a professional therapist who specialises in psychotherapy for behavioural addictions and anxiety disorders.

#11. Don’t play video games alone

This tip is a ‘harm reduction’ technique as opposed abstinence based. Gaming alone is a clear sign you may be developing an addiction. This is similar to the gambling addict who goes to casinos alone.

#12. Avoid highly addictive games

We recommend you avoid first-person shooters (FPS) and massively multi-player online games (MMOGs). The problem with MMOGs is that they consist of a ‘persistent environment’ with no beginning and no end. This means people can literally play these games for decades without any closure.

MMOGs include popular titles such as World of Warcraft, RuneScape, Guild Wars, and League of Legends. FPS include games such as Half-Life and Doom. Although we cannot list a definite list of games you should avoid, these games.

#13. Avoid playing games on your mobile phone

This includes games such as Clash of Clans and Candy Crush. These games also charge your credit card for certain transactions. Thus, these games are addictive and expensive. These ‘micro-transactions’ are extremely addictive, and video game production companies likely understand and profit from the addictive nature of their games.

Original source kindly provided by:

The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Addiction: This guide explains in depth how video game addiction may arise and offers practical steps to overcoming video game addiction.


addiction help

We found the following article and while it regards technology in general rather than merely online casinos, we found this might strike a particular note with some or indeed many of our readers who will recognise a lot of what is being mentioned.

Are we addicted to technology?

(Thanks to the BBC for the original article) By Zoe Kleinman: Technology reporter, BBC News

addiction-1

Just five minutes after meeting sleep and energy expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan in her central London clinic, she delivers some bad news.

“You’ve got the classic pattern of someone who’s in a fatigue cycle,” she says.

“You’re running on survival energy. Your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. I would guess you feel pretty shattered mid-afternoon which would mean you are running on adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol.”

I’m turning into a dopamine junkie – the brain chemical associated with pleasure that is released when we are stimulated, whether that is by food, sex, excitement… or screen time.

It sounds convincing. Or am I being blinded by pseudo-science?

Dr Ramlakhan works at the privately run Nightingale Hospital, and is a member of its technology addiction treatment team.

Surely tiredness is a by-product of a busy modern life – children, work, hobbies etc – rather than that relaxing time spent watching Netflix in bed?

“The thing many of my patients have in common is the fact that they are in front of screens all the time. Even when they try to sleep at night. It has become so pervasive,” she says.

addiction-2

“They go to bed but can’t sleep, or fall asleep exhausted and wake up tired. People started telling me they couldn’t switch their brains off.”

One patient was suspended from work after sending an inappropriate email to a client in the early hours of the morning, she adds.

“When we unpicked the story we realised he was spending more time at work and finding it more difficult to switch off.”

He is now on the road to recovery – and hopes to return to his job.

Another recent patient was a 17-year-old who had suffered a seizure.

It turned out he was up all night playing computer games.

Multi-tasking madness

Tech-related burnout is also common in people with certain personality traits, Dr Ramlakhan continues.

“Are you a perfectionist? Are you a control freak? Do you grind your teeth at night?

“That’s an A-type personality – they are driven, competitive, aggressive, run on imperatives – have to, must do, should do,” she says.

“They are likely to find themselves unable to switch off, they can’t relax, if they do they crash into exhaustion.

“Even if they are watching TV they have multi screens. It’s a level of hyperactivity driven by a fear of not being in control.”

I suggest that perhaps they just want to multi-task.

“It’s the accessibility, the sensory experience of swiping that screen, the instant gratification… there is something quite pleasurable about that,” she counters.

“Our generation hasn’t got the hang of how to respond to it so we respond very reactively.

“For a lot of people it’s the lack of offline time which causes hyper-arousal of the brain. People walk about in a state of distractibility.”

Author and psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair also thinks multi-tasking – or multi-screening – is a dangerous game, especially for children.


Dr Nerina Ramlakhan’s prescription

  • Have “electronic sundowns” – pull back from technology in the hour before you go to bed. Read books but not e-books
  • Keep your clock turned away from you at night and don’t use your phone as an alarm clock
  • Re energise: eat breakfast – or at least something small – within 30 minutes of getting up and before drinking any caffeine
  • Start hydrating. Drink two litres of water a day at least

“We see a decrease in memory, a decline in grades, they’re not developing the part of their brain that’s a muscle that needs to be developed for singular focus,” she told the BBC.

“It seems to decline the more people do split screening.”

Old school

addiction-3

The Steiner-Waldorf School philosophy actively discourages any screen time at all for under-12s, and British health watchdog NICE guidelines suggest a limit of two hours of screen time a day for adults and children, although this is more in order to increase physical activity.

“It takes us decades to adjust to new technology,” says Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s curiously titled chief envisioner.

“Technology is a wonderful thing if we use it properly – and we need to use it properly.”

It is the current generation, those of us who remember life before the internet, for whom the draw to technology is irresistible, agrees Dr Ramlakhan.

She says her 11-year-old daughter is already “bored” by Facebook and suggests I ask my four-year-old son to collect up the family gadgets as he will find it far easier than me to initiate switch-off.

“Up-and-coming digital natives will be more discerning than us,” she explains.

“We’re still in the ‘Ooh, isn’t it wonderful?’ phase of technology, we are still excited by it. Our generation hasn’t got the hang of how to respond to it so we respond very reactively.”

After a few days of following Dr Ramlakhan’s advice I have to admit that I do feel better. I am definitely sleeping more and despite medics disagreeing over whether drinking extra water is actually beneficial, it does seem to make me feel more alert.

Of course, it could well be a placebo effect – I know what I’m doing is supposed to be improving my wellbeing.

Is the physiology sound?

addiction-5

At the Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire, where the phone reception is terrible but it still costs £5 to charge your mobile, I meet Dr David Cox, a former Accident and Emergency doctor who is now chief medical officer at subscription-based meditation app Mindfulness.

He echoes Dr Ramlakhan’s words.

“I don’t believe we can be engaging with something to this extent and for it not to be having an effect on our brains,” he says.

“The reason we are feeling stressed about all this stuff is that our brains aren’t used to doing what we are asking them to do.

“Our brains are very good at adapting and they will continue to do that.”

Child’s play

So how is the next generation shaping up?

A recent study by the London School of Economics suggested that in schools which banned mobile phones, children’s test scores increased by more than 6%.

I pay a visit to my son’s former pre-school, Wildflowers, in Hampshire – a forest school where there are no screens and outdoor play is non-negotiable, rain or shine.

Head teacher Helena Nilsson says children are like “bees to a honeypot” if she gets out her laptop but without the distraction they engage in much more creative play.

The little ones, however, seem less convinced about the benefits of their enforced digital detox.

“Do you think we should have a computer, tablet or TV at Wildflowers?” she asks.

“YES!” chorus the enthusiastic under-fives unanimously.


The hidden cost of free gambling apps

gambling addiction help slots

The hidden cost of those ‘free’ gambling apps

Some of the most downloaded and highest-grossing video games in leading app stores use casino motifs for their designs, raising questions about the potential dangers of gambling apps.

(Thanks to CNET for the original article)

Many worries about the future weigh on Brett as he works his way through a gambling addiction program.

The 21-year-old’s biggest worry after his release from the three-month program in California: encountering people, places and things that might trigger his urge to gamble. But they’re nothing compared with the biggest threat he’ll face: his smartphone, and the many casino-style games available with a quick tap at an app store.

“I don’t even have to go to a casino,” said the former business student who asked to remain anonymous because of the stigma associated with his struggles. “Just whip out your phone and you’re right there.”

Brett’s gambling problem began a few years ago with bets on National Basketball Association games, followed by wagers on other professional sports. It wasn’t long before his habit expanded to social casino games. Played on a mobile device or PC, even via Facebook’s website, such games mimic the slot machines and card games in casinos. The key difference is players can’t win real cash. They bet with the game’s play money and, if they run out, they can spend real-world dollars to get more.

The games are ‘normalizing gambling behavior,’ says researcher Sally Gainsbury.

“There’s a lot of these games,” Brett said. “A lot of them are the most popular games too.”

He started playing Zynga Poker, a slot machine game, last year. But he craved the excitement that came with betting real money. Before long, he was placing bets in a brick-and-mortar casino, much to his financial detriment. When he lost more than $5,000 through a combination of card games and sports betting, he was forced to ask his parents for money to tackle his debt. That’s when he, and his parents, decided he needed to get into a recovery program.

These games, made for mobile devices, sparked Brett’s gambling addiction. Part of how he got hooked was the “freemium” nature of social casino titles — a tactic that has become a lucrative new way of doing business within the video game industry. The lure is simple: Pull in gamers with free play and, once they’re engaged, entice them to pay for extras, such as virtual money, gifts and more turns.

The games are “normalizing gambling behavior,” said Sally Gainsbury, a researcher with the Center for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University in Australia. “It’s being seen as an acceptable everyday activity, helping people develop positive attitudes about gambling, and that could transfer to young people wanting to pay money to gamble.”

And that may be the biggest problem, said John Kindt, a gambling critic and professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “When you tie electronic gaming to gambling and sports within the context of young people who think they’re bulletproof, you have a trifecta of social and economic problems waiting to happen.”

Spokespeople for Zynga declined to comment, while those for Caesars Interactive Entertainment and Big Fish Games did not respond to requests for comment.
A newfangled Vegas

There are potentially many more Bretts out there. Video games are more popular today than they ever have been, and their influence continues to grow. For casino game makers, that’s translated into a monthly audience more than three and a half times bigger than the masses who visited Las Vegas in all of last year.
Enlarge Image
GSN’s casino app is among the highest-grossing apps in Google’s and Apple’s app stores. Game Show Network

The global audience for casino apps on smartphones reached an average of 145 million monthly active users between July 2014 and June 2015 (excluding Asia, which has not been recorded and makes up a quarter of the global market), according to SuperData Research. Gainsbury, the gambling researcher, estimates the games will draw 269 million people worldwide by 2016.

Those audiences are opening their wallets for the games too. This past July, social casino games regularly made up a quarter of the top 20 highest-grossing apps in the Google Play Store, according to App Annie, a market analytics company. Apple’s App Store showed similar statistics for the month, with social casino apps consistently nabbing three spots in the top 20. Both Slotomania: Free Casino Slots and Big Fish Casino: Free Slots consistently ranked in the top 10 in both stores.

Though the games can be played for free, revenues from purchases of in-game extras reel in millions for the biggest publishers. Zynga’s total adjusted sales from social casino games were estimated at $80.1 million during the first quarter of 2015, and Caesars Interactive, whose key social casino titles include Slotomania and Caesars Casino, reported gross revenues of $167.6 million, according to Eilers Research.
Social casino apps for smartphones boast a monthly audience more than three and a half times bigger than the masses who visited Las Vegas in all of last year.

Sales are continuing to rise: The global social casino game market rose to $809.6 million during the first quarter of 2015, a bump of 7 percent over the same time a year ago, according to Eilers Research. Revenues from mobiles accounted for 61 percent of the total market during the quarter, compared with 50 percent in the prior year period.

The global market for social casino games is expected to bring in $3.2 billion by the end of 2015, with North America making up nearly half the market, according to SuperData.

The games alone aren’t the only thing attracting customers. Developers have hired high-profile celebrities to help to endorse them as well.

Basketball star Shaquille O’Neal teamed up with a company called PlayStudios in March to lend his likeness to two social casino games that are included in the company’s MyVegas app: Caddy Shaq, a slot machine game, and ShaqJack, a blackjack title. “Once players see the game with all the lights, sounds, and features, I think it enables people to want to stay there,” O’Neal said.

He ought to know: O’Neal said he often plays the games during downtime between watching and analyzing playoff basketball games. He even recommended MyVegas to his five children, ranging from 9 years old to 19 years old. O’Neal said he likes the games because they help make learning math skills fun.
Addictive drug or possible antidote?

For Liz Wooley, the games highlight an emerging and little-known social problem relating to video game addiction. Wooley founded Online Gamers Anonymous after her 21-year-old son committed suicide in 2001 following two years he spent playing a game called EverQuest, an Internet fantasy game.

“He was normal before,” she said. “He had future ambitions, just like any other person. But when he got sucked into that game, he became a different person.”

Wooley said her son was addicted, and that made him depressed as well. “Gaming is an accepted drug of choice for some people,” Wooley said. “They use it to escape reality, and parents use these games as babysitters.”

Developers and industry advocates of social casino games say these apps aren’t as dangerous as critics charge. They say the stories of harm stem from abuse.
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Game makers have struck deals with celebrities and popular brands to help increase their profile. Game Show Network

“It’s not the games themselves that are addictive,” said Andrew Pedersen, senior vice president and general manager of social casinos for the cable channel Game Show Network, whose GSN Games division makes casino apps for smartphones. “It’s about the individuals that kind of have that kind of obsessive aspect in their own personality.”

Though games might feed addiction for some, they can help manage it for others.

Tony Lawrence, a 58-year-old recovering gambling addict, and a counselor at the Aboriginal Gambling Help Service in Adelaide, Australia, says he’s used social casino games as a teaching tool for himself and his clients.

“It gives them that little bit of adrenaline rush and helps control their addiction and modify their behavior,” says Lawrence, who spends up to two hours a day on Slotomania himself.

Still, the freemium model presents a challenge. Lawrence trains his clients to pick games where there aren’t continual pop-ups for buyable extras, saying they can trigger the addiction.

“I look at it in terms that I am a gambling addict, and that if I start purchasing credits online, that would be the end of me, and I would just struggle from there,” Lawrence said. “I have to be really strong, and my clients have to be strong about how they do it.”

Addicts who encounter the games on their own, without the sort of guidance Lawrence offers, may not have that strength.

Brett said gambling apps shouldn’t be so pervasive, particularly because they make it harder for him and other gambling addicts to stay clean.

His solution: Move social casino apps to a separate section of app stores, so it’s less likely a player will find them just by swiping through their home page.

Spokespeople for Google and Apple, which run the most popular app stores, declined to comment.

“For people with problems, with a gambling addiction, that’s in their face,” Brett said. “It’s right there. It’s definitely an issue.”


Online Slots Time On Device

There is one phrase which is used in the background by slot games developers, programmers and casinos. This phrase is “Time on device”. As a slot machine player you have probably never come across this phrase and that is because the casinos and slot makers do not want you to know about it.

What does “Time on Device” mean?

Basically both the casino and the software makers want you to stay online as long as possible. They want you to become addicted. The greater the amount of time you spend on a slot, the greater the chance you will eventually become addicted.

We have managed to dig out one document from Playtech which is aimed at the casinos, we are not sure how long this document will actually remain available once they discover it’s available for gamers so we’ll also take a few extracts for you. Here is the link:

http://www.playtech.com/html/OnlineCatalogue/BrandedSlotsCatalogue/

And here are a couple of extracts (click on the image to enlarge):

Frankie-Dettoris-Magic-Seven-Slot-1024x724

The-Mummy-Online-Slot-1024x724

In all there are 18 slots listed in the pdf all with varying variance/volatility, varying feature frequency and varying time on device. Playtech are covering all the bases and trying to appeal to all sorts of players from casual to professional.

While this information in itself is probably pretty obvious when you think about it, it is always worth a reminder that the casinos and the slot developers want you to become addicted. So make damn sure you don’t become addicted!!

UPDATE: Playtech have now removed the above mentioned link. Didn’t take them long!


Internet Addiction

mobile internet addiction

Internet addicted South Korean children sent to digital addiction help detox boot camp

South Korea has the highest rate of internet addiction in the world and it is increasingly the country’s children who are spending every waking moment immersed in fantasy role play or gaming.

The government sees it as a national health crisis and is now taking drastic measures to help the country’s 2 million addicts.

They have set up a network of boot camps across the nation to offer the kids of Korea a digital detox.

In the remote and pristine mountains of South Korea, about as far away as one can get from the country’s high-tech cities, teenage internet addicts are turning up for a 12-day boot camp.

Kyle Won’s addiction is out of control. He spends 10 hours a day on the internet. He was top of his class and now he has dropped out of his final year of high school. His mother, Han Jin Sook, brought him to the camp as a last resort.

“He’s become aggressive and angry and stressed towards people. He used to listen to us but now he doesn’t,” she said.

Kyle’s smartphone is taken away, locked up for safekeeping and then it is goodbye to his parents and to cyberspace.

“I’m really worried because I won’t have my phone for 12 days but I trust other things will fill my time,” he said.

About a dozen teenage boys live, eat, sleep at the camp and every day starts with exercises.

At first the counsellors encourage human interaction to get them socialising again; for many the only friends they have had are online.

Kyle, 18, said this was a problem for him.

“I have relationships on the internet and a real distance has grown with my personalised friends and I know it’s not good,” he said.

One of the basic ideas at the camp is to rebuild connections back to the real world and weaken ties to the virtual one to reclaim a childhood lost to the computer.

The job of the counsellors here is to get the kids to think about a future beyond the smartphone or iPad; to show them other possibilities and ultimately to try and bring back dreams and hopes that have been buried by their addictions.

Counsellor Shim Yong Chool said what the boys learned at camp had to be applied back in the home environment if treatment was to be successful..

“We teach them methods to self-manage their emotions and the desire to use the internet so they can continue to use them when they go back home,” Mr Shim said.

The boys also undergo intense one-on-one counselling to work out any underlying causes of addiction like family conflicts or personality issues.

One in every 10 South Korean child an addict

South Korean psychiatrists are urging more action as they are finding evidence too much screen time is damaging developing brains.

Professor Kang Seak Young from Dankook University said the addiction was damaging critical thinking.

“It effects the frontal lobes which are important for critical analysis,” Professor Kang said.

“Reading a book where one is guessing what happens in the story next shows activity in frontal lobes but playing internet games shows no activity.”

The camp may not offer a cure but after just two days Kyle said it was helping.

“It’s a step forward, I’m living without the internet and I do have an expectation, through the group exercises and counselling, that when I go home it will have an impact and I won’t use the internet as much,” he said.

South Korea is most wired nation on Earth. Virtually every home is connected with cheap high-speed broadband.

But it does have a cost — one on 10 kids are addicts — so the country is now learning how to manage and moderate its high-tech future. (ABC)


Perks offered to “hook” addicts

betting machines

Betting machine gamblers ‘offered perks’

Betting shop staff say they are told to offer gamblers perks to keep them playing on fixed-odds betting machines, a BBC investigation has found.

One ex-manager said he was instructed to offer free bets and drinks – in one case it was suggested he could buy lunch for high-spending customers.

Other managers we spoke to said they were paid a bonus if they met financial targets on the machines.

The industry says it takes responsible gambling very seriously.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT) offer simple touch screen play, usually on a version of roulette, where people can gamble as much as £100 per spin, in theory every 20 seconds.

‘Gods of the shop’

“John”, who was a manager at Coral until recently, said staff were given instructions to offer machine players refreshments as soon as they entered the shop and do “absolutely anything” to make them feel comfortable.

“If the shop was too hot for them, we would have to turn the heating down or vice versa. They were the gods of the betting shop,” he said.

“There was a suggestion from the area manager at one time that if we had a customer coming in their lunch hour, we had to make sure they didn’t waste time trying to get a cheese and ham roll instead of playing the machines. You could go out there, buy them a cheese and ham roll and get it ready for them.”

Coral said it takes its commitments to responsible gambling “extremely seriously”. It added it had “strengthened protections for all its customers, providing help and support for the very small minority that may have issues with their gambling activity”.

John said managers had to hit their machine profit target and would receive a financial reward if they did.

“I know another firm based their whole wage on how much money they made on machines, so there was every incentive for the staff to encourage people,” he said.

‘Use a hook’

The two store managers, who still work for Coral, said they felt pressure to hit financial targets on the FOBTs machines.

One passed on internal emails from Coral’s central operations department about a new FOBTs game called Big Banker, which gave advice on “smashing your targets”.

It said: “Ensure your team has… identified your target key customers to demonstrate our popular feature game. Offer a demo to all of your machine customers to whet their appetite, then encourage them to play with their own money.

“Once you have identified your target customers, it often helps when you use a ‘hook’ to encourage them to play. ‘You like Big Banker, do you have our bonus card yet? It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s free.'”

13 June 2016.


Case study: ‘Red mist’ of gambling

Tony Franklin has had a problem with gambling since he was a child. He had managed to stay out of the bookies for a year, but over a couple of hours 18 months ago, he blew it all.

Having avoided high-street bookmakers for a year, he cleaned out his bank account in just an hour after a trip to the barbers. As he left he was drawn to one of the many betting shops on his high street and one of its FOBTs.

“I was totally devastated and just completely caught up in the gambling, in the red mist of it,” he says.

His addiction has had a devastating effect on his personal relationships. He had been due to bring his wife and child over to the UK to set up home but his expensive relapse put his plans on indefinite hold.

Now Tony keeps his betting shop receipts from that day as a reminder of how quickly he can lose control when faced with temptation. He feels the industry should be doing more to stop addicts like him losing control.


Under the industry’s code of conduct, all staff should be trained to identify and help problem gamblers.

But one woman, who works for another unnamed bookmakers, said that did not always happen.

“I have never actually been trained. All we have is a leaflet and are told to give them out if we feel people have a problem. But working on your own at night, or even in the morning, makes it extremely hard to hand out leaflets and speak to customers who are clearly frustrated,” she said.

Malcolm George, from the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “It is absolutely the case that anyone joining and working in a betting shop will receive training about problem gambling.”

Coral said it rejected the allegations made by the BBC.

It added in its statement: “Recent health surveys show that problem gambling rates have in fact fallen since the introduction of FOBTs and the average Coral customer’s loss per session on a FOBT is around £6-9.

“The introduction of supervised stakes above £50 from April last year has had a profound change in customer behaviour, with an approximate 70% reduction in stakes above that level.

“Training, tools and processes are in place throughout the business to ensure that potential problem gamblers are identified and protected.”

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00-11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.


‘I’ve been turned into a hardened gambler’

The UK government recently rejected a plea to reduce the maximum bet on some fixed-odds betting terminals FOBTs on High Street bookmakers.

The move was criticised by some, while the government said stronger controls – which give local authorities more power to stop betting shops opening and mean gamblers betting more than £50 per spin have to interact with staff or have an account – were sufficient.

We spoke to four people who have experience with FOBTs, including gambling addicts who have lost thousands of pounds on High Street betting machines.


Niall, Cheshire

I am a recovering compulsive gambler who has been in recovery since June 2014, thanks to Gamblers Anonymous (GA).

Over the last few months, I have started to become more active in my GA group and have noticed a huge increase in the number of people with specific problems with FOBTs.

This isn’t just limited to males, we have a core of female members who have all become addicted to these machines.

I never had a problem with gambling until I played these machines.

In the end, it took over my life.

I stole from family and friends in order to feed my addiction and lost jobs due to the amount of time I’d taken off of work in order to gamble.

I would easily go into the bookies and spend up to eight to 10 hours in there every day.

I was deemed a regular in the bookies I went into – but not one person ever suggested that I had a problem.

They were happy enough to see me feeding money into the machines every day. I believe this was because I was never aggressive or kicked up a fuss in the shop. I would take my frustration out on my loved ones instead.

I am now 15 months clean of gambling. I want people to hear my story now and if it can help one person, then I feel that I have done some good.


Fixed-odds betting terminals

£1.6bn

profit made by bookmakers from the machines in a year*

  • £100 maximum stake per bet
  • £2 what campaigners believe the maximum stake should be
  • £500 maximum win per bet
  • 34,874 number of FOBTs in betting shops in the UK*

Terry, Ballymena, Northern Ireland

My fixed odds betting has made me contemplate suicide. I’ve been playing fruit machines for years. For example, I can spend £2,000 on fixed odds betting in an hour.

I got paid today, but I’m not going out the door to spend it on FOBTs.

My good friend works behind the betting shop counter. I basically pay his salary.

I do it for the flashing lights, and the outside chance of maybe hitting it big.

I was up £1,000 earlier this week but I wasn’t satisfied and I didn’t stop betting.

I’ve lost between £80,000 and £90,000 in total, which is my whole income.

I don’t pay my bills anymore. It damages my relationships with other people.

I give my money to my current partner, who buys things for me.

I’ve tried to ban myself, but it won’t work. I’ve been turned into a hardened gambler.


John from Swansea

I work in a high street bookmakers. I see the vast majority of people playing FOBTs gambling responsibly every day. Why should this activity be curtailed because of the problems of a very small minority?

I watched a TV programme about a chap who had a problem with FOBTs. The betting shop banned him for his own good and he then went on to blow his money on scratch cards instead.

You don’t ban alcohol because of a few alcoholics. You can ban or restrict FOBTs easily but it will merely displace the problem of the minority, to the detriment of the majority.

Help those minority who have a problem but don’t punish the vast, overwhelming majority who gamble responsibly with their leisure money and within their means.


Mark

I have been a gambler for over 20 years. I have lost jobs because of my gambling. I’ve been to prison. I’ve been made homeless and tried to kill myself. In my life I have probably lost over £400,000.

Since bookmakers have had roulette terminals, I think it has made people’s gambling addictions much worse.

In the past I used to spend all day in a bookmakers. I once gambled away £6,000, all within two-and-a-half hours.

People who could control their gambling on horses and football now find themselves completely out of control.

The buzz from the machines is so addictive that it is nearly impossible to stop.

I have seen a lot of anti-social behaviour from people using the machines and I know that some staff are told not to report it.

I believe the government, like with smoking, will never ban it because they get so much money from it.

I have now excluded myself from many betting shops. I printed off letters with my photo and drove around different areas in the middle of the night posting the letters to every betting shop I could find.

That way, I know if I want to go into a bookmakers, it means a 70-mile drive to a betting shop outside my self-exclusion zone.

Nowadays I use online betting sites where you can control your betting by using deposit limits.

BBC News


‘I lost £400k using High Street betting machines’

A plea to radically reduce the maximum bet on fixed-odds betting terminals was recently rejected by the government. For some, the machines have had a devastating impact.

“I’ve done about £400,000 to £500,000 in the last eight years and now I’ve only got my pension. And I still do it. I lose all my money and then struggle.”

“John”, 69, is a gambling addict. He has spent all the money he inherited when his mother died and the proceeds from selling her former home.

He uses fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) almost every day and says he can’t stop. After spending his pension payments, he often turns to loans to make ends meet.

“It’s making me ill,” he says. “I’m seeking help, but that doesn’t seem to be doing it.”

FOBTs, introduced in 1999, are a growing source of income for bookmakers. Between October 2013 and September 2014, they generated more than half – £1.6bn – of the in-store profit made by bookmakers.

Betting shops are allowed up to four FOBTs in each premises and there are now around 35,000 across the UK. They offer simple touch-screen play, with little prior gambling knowledge needed. Users insert notes or coins, pick a game and are ready to go.

The majority of users play a version of roulette, where they can gamble as much as £100 per spin, in theory every 20 seconds. In the long-term, the machines generally pay out around 97.3% of the money spent on roulette – but winnings and losses can vary, sometimes wildly.

Last month, the UK government rejected a call from 93 councils in England and Wales for the highest stake to be cut from £100 to £2. It said stronger controls – which give local authorities more power to stop betting shops opening and mean gamblers betting more than £50 per spin have to interact with staff or have an account – were sufficient.

The gambling industry also says there are adequate measures in place to help problem gamblers, while the Gambling Commission says there is little evidence tackling high stakes alone will prevent addiction.

But some people have lost very large sums using FOBTs – and there are claims problem gamblers are more vulnerable to them.

John, whose name we have changed at his request, started using the machines after seeing others win big. At first, he says he could “take them or leave them”. Now, he spends whatever he can on the machines.

And if he wins money it is eventually fed back in, simply prolonging the time it takes before he is left with nothing.

“Each time I have a winner, it gives me a boost. I might lose on the next spin and then if I win on the following one, that’s a boost again. I keep on thinking I’m going to get my money back, plus a bit.”

Does that ever happen? “No”.

Michael O’Grady, 31, started using FOBTs a decade ago. He initially gambled what he describes as “fairly non-harmful” amounts, around £20 per session. After a couple of big wins, he got more confident.

“I started having £50 spins and £100 spins, and then that very much led to an absolute obsession with roulette in any form,” he says.

Michael, a welding inspector from Middlesbrough, estimates he lost £150,000 on FOBTs, before seeking therapy. He regularly gambled away a full month’s wages in one visit to the bookmakers.

“If you caught me on a bad streak… that could easily add up in half an hour,” Michael says.

“It’s so fast – there’s the opportunity to have another bet every 20 to 30 seconds. There’s always another opportunity for another hit or another high,” he adds.

“At the point I was at with gambling, you’re not playing for the money. You’re actually playing for the high.”

At the worst stages of his gambling, he considered suicide.

“The money situation and the feeling of hopelessness and that I’m never going to be able to stop… it took me to the point of looking on the internet for the best ways to end your life.”

Most of the men we spoke to (experts say most problem gamblers are male) described participating in low-stakes sports betting before becoming hooked on the machines.

Jamie Davies started using the machines aged 17 after going to the bookies to bet on football. He went on to lose £40,000 over four years, using payday loans to fund his gambling when his wages ran out.

“I found myself trying to make my way out of things, trying to deceive people from where I’ve been or why I haven’t got much money,” says Jamie, now 21. “It was a case of not being able to see my friends very often because I didn’t have very much money.”

He would spend his free time – and later time when he should have been working – on the machines.

And Jamie’s gambling had a big impact on his family, with his mother having to borrow money to pay his debts.

‘Responsible level’

Academics from the Responsible Gambling Trust say just 3% of bets on the terminals involved the maximum £100 bet between September 2013 and June 2014 in the UK’s five biggest bookmakers.

The average loss for FOBT users was £6 in the period covered, they say. But campaigners argue more needs to be done to prevent individuals developing problems.

“FOBTs represent the most addictive form of gambling that’s available,” says Adrian Parkinson, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

“What you get in the betting shop is completely anonymised, cash-based play. That is what appeals to problem gamblers.”

Mr Parkinson worked for Tote, the bookmaker, when FOBTs were introduced in the UK. He helped develop the machines for almost a decade, but quit after becoming alarmed at the impact they were having.

He says a £2 maximum would bring FOBTs in line with other gambling machines on the High Street.

“The government says in all other easy access gambling venues, the maximum responsible level for gambling on the High Street is up to £2,” he says. Should FOBTs be any different?

The Gambling Commission, which regulates gambling in the UK, says it is not clear machines cause people “to develop problems to a greater extent than other forms of gambling.”

It says a radical reduction in stake size “would have a significant impact on normal leisure gamblers” but adds “the possible benefits for problem and at-risk gamblers are uncertain”.

And the gambling industry believes appropriate controls are already in place. Customers can impose time and cash limits when they play the machines and the Association of British Bookmakers says workers are given extensive training to be able to identify and minimise problem gambling.

“We don’t want people getting into difficulty,” said the ABB’s Peter Craske. “We want people to bet what they can afford and enjoy themselves.”


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