It started innocently enough for my patient Tanya *. Unemployed after surgery, she got bored and killed time online when she clicked on a gambling site pop-up ad.
“I thought it was fun,” she told me. “The ad included women like me. It was just a laugh. ‘
And in the beginning it was fun. Then it became a daily treat to break through the monotony. Then it started to turn into something sinister.
“It was really starting to get me under control. It was actually scary, “she said.
I am increasingly concerned that many more will become victims of online gambling during the lockdown, Dr. Max Pemberton (file photo)
It wasn’t long before online gambling dominated her every hour of the day. The outcome is as predictable as it is sad. She lost her job, got into debt and was evicted from her apartment.
It took another two years and a period of homelessness before she sought treatment for her addiction and turned things around. But it gave her broken confidence and persistent fear.
Tanya’s story is far from unique. But I am increasingly concerned that during the closing – limited to home without work, unstructured and isolated from friends and family – many more will have fallen victim to online gambling. At first they find some sort of comfort, but their habit begins to get out of hand.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling-related Harm recently called for a ban on all betting ads to curb the devastation this addiction causes.
This week, the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee called for betting limits, a delay in online play, and a ban on gambling advertising around sports.
It’s about time. We’ve heard a lot about increasing alcohol consumption during lockdown, but I see patients for whom the legacy of lockdown is a gambling addiction.
Now I don’t buy into the “disease model of addiction,” which says that a person is completely helpless against their desire.
I believe that addiction may have complex psychological dimensions, but – unlike other illnesses – we have our behavior under control.
When bets are placed, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which causes euphoric feelings – exactly what happens when someone uses cocaine (file photo)
That said, vulnerable people need to be protected. They face a multi-billion dollar industry, so if you excuse the pun, the dice will be loaded against them.
MPs have said that the Gambling Commission, charged with regulating the industry, “did not adequately protect consumers” while the company moved online. From a clinical perspective, gambling addiction is a fascinating, albeit tragic, phenomenon. People mistakenly believe that it is the victory that keeps gamblers addicted. It is more complicated than that.
There are several elements that make it addictive, based on the way it ‘pushes up’ the reward pathways in our brain, even if a gambler isn’t rewarded with a win.
The buzz of expectation is incredibly intoxicating. Indeed, neuroscience shows that gambling addiction includes many of the same neurological pathways as drug addiction.
When bets are placed, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which causes euphoric feelings – exactly what happens when someone uses cocaine.
We have heard a lot about increasing alcohol consumption during lockdown, but I see patients for whom the legacy of lockdown is a gambling addiction, says Dr. Max Pemberton (file photo)
The mind also plays a role in perpetuating the addiction by falling into “cognitive errors” – false beliefs or incorrect thinking patterns. The “gambler’s fallacy” is the mistaken belief that if an event happens repeatedly, another event is imminent.
This keeps gamblers addicted. With each loss, they become more convinced that a victory is inevitable, which fuels their behavior.
Interestingly, many gambling addicts report feeling hopeless about other aspects of their lives. By gambling they give themselves hope. That’s why they keep going back for more.
In the past, psychologists saw gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. It was motivated by a need to relieve anxiety rather than a desire for pleasure. We now know that it is more like addiction, but we still don’t treat it accordingly.
While drugs and other addictive drugs are strictly regulated or banned, gambling is given a free pass.
There is no point in being treated so lax given the devastation not only for the individual but also for the loved ones who depend on them.
Yes, we should ban online gambling ads. But I would go even further. Just like we did with cigarettes, we should completely ban all gambling ads.
While people should be free to choose to gamble if they wish, we cannot allow the vulnerable to be psychologically and cynically manipulated by the multinational gambling companies to make a profit.
* Names have been changed.
Insight is essential, not a diploma!
In an effort to deliver on Boris Johnson’s promise to 20,000 new police officers, fast-tracking for graduates and enrollment of officers in on-the-job degrees has disappeared. This has been countered with the accusation that the police force is being ‘watered down’.
I do not agree. Police officers should not be required to have a diploma. The idea that those who are one are somehow better equipped for police work is a misconception.
The same principle was applied to nursing. But when it comes to working with people, there are some things you can’t learn from a textbook. Care, compassion, how to escalate a situation, and so on are all essential skills for working on the front line.
In an effort to deliver on Boris Johnson’s promise to 20,000 new police officers, graduate fast-tracking and enrollment of officers in on-the-job degrees has disappeared (file photo)
This overprofessionalization of professional jobs has not resulted in better recruits, only more indebted people who go “by the book” instead of using their initiative or practical experience.
I once worked with an older Irish nurse in A&E. She didn’t have a degree, but what she didn’t know about medicine was not worth knowing.
I remember watching her calm a violent group of drunk boys on a deer before comforting a family whose daughter had just died.
To think that her insight is considered of less value because she has no certificate is ridiculous.
While some people celebrate the end of the closure (and a sort of return to normality), others are concerned – including the country’s national goddess, Nigella. She is, she said, “completely satisfied with desocialization.”
There is no doubt that there were – and still are – many people who felt lonely. But the past few months have given us respite from the constant merry-go-round of fun.
Now that we’re out of the lockout, the message to take home may not be that we love our own company, but that we should be more selective about the company we keep.
Once again, I am blown away by the kindness and generosity our readers show for the Mail Force charity, which does so much to help those who work in the NHS.
The charity announced this week that it has now purchased a whopping £ 10 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. As one of those employees, I would like to thank everyone who donated.
We are all truly grateful – and your continued support means the world to us.
Panto deserves to be central
Actor John Barrowman has waged war on snobbish theater critics for mocking Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s plans to save pantomimes as part of the government’s relief efforts.
John Barrowman, above, waged war on snobbish theater critics for mocking culture secretary Oliver Dowden’s plans to save pantomimes
He said they had to ‘p *** off’. Right! I hate this elite view of what theater should be. I like a pantomime.
In fact, as a young person, I took part in our local amateur pantomime every year for ten years to raise money for Thames Valley Hospice.
I have gone to at least one panto every year since then. Not only a staple of the regional theater calendar, they provide vital income, but are also a wonderful introduction to the dramatic arts for children.
They have their roots in the plays of the old English Mummers – folk games – and form a rich part of our cultural heritage. In addition, they can give children important psychological insight by presenting complex moral dilemmas and lightly demonstrating the victory of good over evil.
Ibsen is not for everyone. Sometimes we all need a little bit of Widow Twankey in our lives. Oh, yes we do!
Dr Max prescribes …
Man Manuals from Men’s Health Forum
We are often told that men do not do enough to take care of their health. Statistics show that one in five men dies before the age of 65, they have worse health outcomes than women – and they die an average of 3.5 years earlier.
But the Men’s Health Forum was created to address this inequality and improve health. Presented as a car handbook, the Man Manuals provide helpful, no-nonsense guides in an accessible form and include everything from stress management to diet improvement (mens healthforum.org.uk/man-manuals).