Australian’s are making headlines as the world’s most addicted gamblers, with over 80% of citizens partaking in gambling activities — which makes it no wonder the country is suffering from what some call a gambling addiction epidemic.
How do People Become Addicted to Gambling?
Gambling is a very accessible pastime in Australia and increasingly risky. Australians gamble more than any other nation in the world, and gambling addiction rates continue to soar with over 300,000 Australians currently addicted to gambling — with countless more on the verge. But problem gambling does not only cause harm to the gambler — friends, family members, and Australia’s entire society are also affected.
Gambling addiction is a form of behavioural, or ‘process’ addiction, whereby people become addicted to the process of gambling or other behaviours and suffer similarly to those who are addicted to substances. A process addiction such as gambling usually requires professional treatment to overcome, as willpower alone is not enough to reverse the changes that occur in the brain.
Essentially, gambling addiction works in the following way: when a person places bets and wins, dopamine and endorphins flood the brain and reward systems bringing feelings of pleasure in a similar way that drugs and alcohol do, or even instinctual habits such as eating and having sex. Many people do enjoy gambling as a responsible pastime. However, for many others it can quickly develop into an addiction. Gambling addicts are typically predisposed to the disease of addiction, and develop a dependence on gambling — much in the same way a heroin addict needs heroin — to produce the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals. The reward system is not fully triggered unless they are gambling, and this leads the addict to believe that the only thing important to their life is gambling. This leads to compulsive gambling — and further emotional, financial and social problems as a result.
Gambling Addiction in Australia
Australians are facing huge problems as a result of problem gambling. From swindling money to participating in drug crimes, many compulsive gamblers are going to the extreme to fuel their addiction. Meanwhile, regulations surrounding the ever-popular Pokies, and up-and-coming online gambling schemes, do not seem to be changing. Companies actively target problem gamblers with their promotions, which could push many responsible gamblers over the edge to addiction.
One Australian man was recently arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison for stealing approximately $200,000 from unsuspecting individuals in order to fuel his addiction. He was known to frequent Perth’s only casino and also travel to Sydney and Melbourne to gamble excessively. Prosecutors cited a serious lack of remorse on his part as he even attempted to put the blame on his victims. This case highlights the pathology that occurs within many addictions — lying, denial, irrational thinking and behaviour, and continued offending in support of the addiction.
Unfortunately, he is not the only Australian stealing fortunes in order to fuel his habit. Another woman admits to stealing almost $500,000 from her company to maintain an online gambling addiction. She hopes that by sharing her story she can bring attention to the fact that gambling is not a problem only experienced by men. Online gambling in particular has gained popularity with all Australians, but even more so Australian women, as it provides a more comfortable alternative to betting in casinos. The woman describes how her addiction crept up on her and eventually landed her in jail – only then was she able to admit the seriousness of her problem.
Gambling: A Serious Affair
Many people view gambling as a less serious addiction than alcohol or drug addiction. For starters, it is not illegal in Australia like many addictive drugs, so getting arrested is not a natural consequence of problem behaviour. But as the stories above illustrate, gambling addiction can lead people to commit extreme crimes in their search for money, just like drug and alcohol addictions can lead people to do the unimaginable in order to secure their next drug fix.
Another Australian newspaper highlights the connection between gambling addiction and illegal drugs. According to a new report, almost one in four people arrested in Australia for drug trafficking have a serious gambling problem. Drug lords are actively recruiting gambling addicts who are desperate to get out of debt and placing them in sitting-duck drug trafficking positions such as looking after marijuana crops. While gambling addiction can frequently co-occur with alcoholism and drug abuse, it appears some Australian gamblers are entering the illegal drug trafficking world solely to support their addiction to gambling.
Australia’s Billion Dollar Gambling Market
Meanwhile, as gambling problems continue to wreak havoc — not only in the lives in of individuals, but in the communities they live, companies are dangerously promoting gambling and often targeting those at highest risk for compulsive gambling in their marketing strategies.
Online gaming titan William Hill has recently bought out many popular online betting sites such as Sportingbet.com.au. As part of their campaign to alert users to the change in ownership, William Hill called gamblers and offered credit incentives.
Offering credit to gamblers, especially online, is dangerous and a gateway to gambling addiction. While laws are in place against publishing material advertising gambling credit, William Hill’s phone calls did not break the law. Further, many Australian online betting sites do offer credit, and not only that, allow gamblers to bet with high interest credit cards — making it all too easy for gambling to get out of control.
Senator and anti-pokie campaigner, Nick Xenophon, along with gambling expert, Dr Charles Livingston, both heavily oppose what they call ‘predatory behaviour’ on the part of gambling enterprises who offer cruel incentives that compulsive gamblers, or those who are headed there, cannot pass up. These leaders are lobbying for better regulations on gambling in Australia, however change is slow and difficult when battling a billion dollar industry.
Gambling Addiction Treatment
Working on the legislation in Australia surrounding gambling practices and accessibility is certainly a worthwhile action to be taking, and will hopefully prevent future cases of addiction. But for those who are already suffering it can be difficult to know where to turn.
Currently in Australia, only 15% of gambling addicts seek help. Shame, guilt, and perceived lack of options all keep people from getting the help they need. But gambling addiction treatment is available, and encompasses many of the same practices of traditional addiction treatment methods.
At The Cabin, we offer both inpatient and outpatient rehab settings and have extensive experience providing treatment for behavioural addictions such as gambling. If you or someone you know is battling with a gambling addiction, it is important to get help from qualified counsellors as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the better chance you have of beating the addiction before life spirals out of control.