Some people believe that problem gambling in Singapore started with a tale of two casinos. Which is just egoistic, because our casinos are far from being that awesome. Seems like the organizations are better at gouging your wallet with coffee prices, or kidnapping dolphins, than actually beating you at Blackjack. No, problem gambling isn’t entirely the casino’s fault; it’s also the fault of the gambler’s brain. So how can one circumvent it?
Why Problem Gambling Occurs
Let’s discount the group of people who sincerely believe that they can beat the casino or make a living off gambling. These people’s mental stability are clearly in question and they are in need of serious counselling. The group we are more interested in are those who are not deluded and are well-aware of the downsides of gambling but just cannot seem to snap out of it.
It begins with this: there may be physiological effects that cause problem gambling. Scientists currently believe that low levels of norepinephrine may be the culprit: This stuff is a chemical in your brain, which makes you feel thrilled or excited. Some people might call it the “rush” effect.
Studies have shown that problem gamblers have really low levels of norepinephrine, so it’s hard for them to experience the “rush”. In short, these people are extremely desensitized to a lot of variables. Money being one of them.
Think of the last time you got a thrill from a roller-coaster. To get that same level of excitement, a person with low norepinephrine might have to be on that roller-coaster without a seat belt, while the track’s on fire, and while being covered in pissed-off cobras.
These people would play Russian Roulette with five bullets. Put them at a betting table, and you’ve got a financial crisis on legs.
Can It Be Fixed?
It depends on the individual. But for the most part, problem gambling is like alcoholism, drugs, or World of Warcraft. The afflicted struggle with it for years, and most relapse. These steps won’t cure the addiction completely, but they will surely slow the effects:
- Disrupt Patterns
- Find the Right Support Network
- Form Negative Associations with Gambling
- Make Cash Inaccessible
For obvious reasons, all of these should be coupled with a voluntary exclusion order. Maybe buy casino security a taser, and tell them to crank it up a notch.
1. Disrupt Patterns
Most habits come with a set of triggers. An alcoholic might reach for a beer when stressed, and a glue sniffer might reach for a plastic bag after parents yell at her.
Like these other addictions, problem gambling is usually set off by something. Examples are:
Mental - A particular chain of thoughts, or recalling specific memories.
Physical - Physical exhaustion or hyperactivity, chronic pain, or restless fidgeting might precede an oncoming attack of “I must gamble”.
Circumstantial / Situational - Location and other people can prompt the gambling urge. Examples are family or work disputes, walking past a Toto stand, or even drawing money from an ATM.
Gamblers need to identify their triggers, and make an effort to avoid them. So if drawing money from an ATM is a trigger, for example, the problem gambler would have someone else do it for him.
The NCPG (National Council on Problem Gambling) has counselors who can help with all this.
Problems gamblers need a task or hobby that distracts them from gambling. Ideally, this would be something that requires total concentration and prolonged effort.
The distraction should take up as much time as they usually spend gambling. For reference, the average problem gambler spends about 20 – 25 hours a week gambling (significantly more if they are unemployed)
Some options might be:
- Craft work (e.g. pottery, carpentry)
- Side-Business (if stress isn’t a trigger)
- Writing a book (doesn’t matter whether it gets published)
I e-mailed Penny, a problem gambler who’s been “…more or less in control of my life, over the past year”. Penny’s distraction is to hand-copy and illustrate Bible passages, which she gives to her church. In her e-mail, she mentions:
“Pick something that doesn’t require you to travel. Because firstly it makes you less inclined to go do it, secondly it takes you away from your family and support. You might wander off during the journey.That’s why, when I tried distractions like rock climbing or photography, they didn’t work.
But when I found something to do at home, it was easier. My hubby just picks me up from work, we drive straight home, and I get to my copying.”
3. Find the Right Support
A support network is a group of people, not always family or fellow addicts, who actively help the problem gambler.
I’m not talking about people who pat them on the back, or spot them $10 for lunch. That all helps. But the best support network has to consist of strong, assertive types. For example, one of the methods taught to families of problem gamblers is not to shield the problem gambler from creditors.
It’s a bit tough to tell a relative or friend that: “Hey, a loan-shark’s out there swearing like a sailor. Get outside and face him, because it’s your problem.”
The NAMS (National Addictions Management Service) offers help and advice for the families of problem gamblers.
Some problem gamblers (like Penny) find religious communities provide better support networks than family or fellow addicts. These organizations often have authority figures, and peer pressure is more tangible.
4. Form Negative Associations With Gambling
“Whenever you slip up, penalize yourself,” Penny suggests, “do something which you hate to do.”
Whenever Penny lapsed, she would “do extra housework, which I hate. I would come clean, explain it to my husband and daughter, and they knew the routine: It meant mum would do all the unpleasant chores for the next month.”
Penny also mentions her fellow addicts’ methods:
“One man would drink milk whenever he lapsed. It made him nauseous. But he wanted to form an association between gambling and nausea. I don’t know how for sure much it contributed, but I notice he was quite in control.”
5. Make Cash Inaccessible
No money, no gambling. It’s that simple.
Problem gamblers should cut up their credit cards, and hand the ATM card to family. They should also have their employer send their pay elsewhere; parents’ bank accounts are a great idea.
It’s vitally important that problem gamblers don’t keep cash lying around. Small amounts ($50 or less) should be immediately spent on groceries, or something else that’s productive. Large amounts need to be sent straight to a bank or a family member’s wallet.
Maybe in future, banks will wise up and check for exclusion orders. If someone has one, they probably shouldn’t have a credit card as well.
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