Addiction as old as Ancient Rome
By King’s Investigative Workshop
Judges in ancient Rome used the term “addiction” to describe gamblers who were unable to pay their debts. Their families were sold into slavery. Then they, too, became slaves.
In essence, they were slaves to their addiction.
That’s still true today.
A pathological gambler—often referred to as a problem gambler—is a frequent gambler who continuously fails to resist his or her urge to place a bet. This is a recognized major public health issue, as the consequences are severe and many, including other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.
“The simple answer is that it destroys their life,” says Mike Buckley, a gambling therapist with Capital District Health Authority and a researcher in Dalhousie University’s gambling research laboratory.
In a 2003 study of the link between pathological gambling and suicide, 38 per cent of those surveyed reported a history of suicidal ideation associated with their gambling. Of these, eight per cent were rated to have a severe to extreme risk of suicide and four per cent reported a past attempt.
At least seven per cent of the total sample attempted suicide for gambling-related reasons. The best predictors of an attempt were anxiety and depression.
While several studies show that gambling is related to depression and suicidal ideation, it is difficult to determine whether or not the link is causal.
But it does stand to reason that those who suffer from mental illnesses are more likely to develop a gambling addiction and vice versa.
“Anybody who is already compromised in their health – mental or physical – is always at a much higher risk for an addiction,” says Buckley.
Broadening the definition
Medically speaking, an addiction is a physical dependence on a particular substance. However, many argue that the term should broaden to include psychological dependencies.
“You can develop a dependency on VLTs in exactly the same way that you develop a dependency on cocaine or illegal substances,” says Bruce Dienes, a part-time community psychology professor at
Mount Saint Vincent University.
“If you showed a brain scan of somebody using VLTs and somebody using cocaine, the brain technicians couldn’t tell the difference between one or the other … You’re actually altering the way in which your brain chemistry is operating.”
Not to mention the financial risks of a gambling addiction. Buckley says gambling addiction follows the same trigger process as drug and alcohol addictions but is more pure and therefore people get in trouble faster.
“You can drink a 40-ouncer a day for a long time before you would come even close to the financial damage that a VLT can cause or a slot machine or the high throughput forms of gambling,” says Buckley. “Your burn rate for money is much higher than for alcoholism or other drugs.”
Ultimately, pathological gambling is a mental health issue that must be addressed through treatment programs.
Because in the end, an addiction is an addiction: there is recovery, but there is no cure.