Gambling addiction: a psychological and social problem

When we talk about drug addiction, we tend to assume that we are talking about addiction to a legal or illegal drug: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, constant use of opiates, etc.

However, one of the most common addiction disorders these days does not involve the use of any product that enters our circulatory system and then passes into the brain. It is a behavioral addiction and is therefore based only on a habit, that is, a set of actions defined by the interaction with the environment, and not by what enters the body. It’s pathological gambling, Also known as gambling or gambling addiction.

    What is gambling addiction?

    Anyone who believes that we can only develop addictions by introducing molecules into our bodies that interact with our neurons is wrong. Gambling addiction is an example that we can only develop addiction disorders by adopting certain habits for a number of occasions.

    And this is it gambling is addictive to all the law; it’s not just in a metaphorical sense. It is already included in the main diagnostic manuals used by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. It is one of the substance-free addictions which, although they have characteristics that distinguish them from drug addiction, are also likely to cause serious health problems and cause significant physical wear and tear.

    Among its effects and symptoms are the appearance of peaks of anxiety when it takes a long time without playing, the appearance of impulses that endanger personal and professional life to continue betting, the feeling of loss. control (feeling the need to continue gambling, even if it is to make up for lost money), and the rapid deterioration of personal and family relationships, as well as increased exposure to poverty.

    Outraged, you feel the need to bet ever larger amounts of money, Even if it happens to get into debt. It is a dynamic that is found in all addictions: you have to get more and more involved in order to “satiate” and relieve the stress of being a few hours without consuming addictive behavior.

    On the other hand, people who develop any type of addiction are more likely to develop another, so in psychotherapy and psychiatry consultations it is very people with a tendency to gambling and alcoholism, opioid addiction, etc.

    Based on data from the General Directorate of Gambling Regulation, an entity linked to the Ministry of Finance, it is currently estimated that the prevalence in Spain of pathological gambling throughout the lifespan (i.e. the percentage of inhabitants of Spain who develop this type of dependence at some point in their life) is about 1 in 100 people, While 0.3% developed it in the past year.

    Features that endanger gambling addiction

    These are several of the characteristics of gambling addiction that make it a serious danger to the person and their immediate environment.

    1. It mainly affects vulnerable classes

    The idea that bookmakers proliferate mainly in lower-income neighborhoods with large numbers of vulnerable residents is not new.

    In fact, a study carried out in the 1990s with a sample of more than 1,600 people living in Galicia suggested that around 43% of people affected by pathological gambling had no income, because they were unemployed, students or housewives.

    today this trend of gambling addiction to affect the middle and lower classes continues here, Although it no longer focuses on people without a stable job. According to the study of the General Directorate of Gambling Regulation mentioned above, the part of the Spanish population most affected by pathological gambling is made up of active men and the family unit has an income of between 900 and 1500 euros.

    Beyond exceptionally large casinos strategically located in tourist areas, mid-sized bookmakers mostly appear in places where there are more people at risk of poverty, as several Spanish Quarter organizations have reported.

    For example, an article in El Espanyol recently drew attention to the fact that between Ciutat Lineal and Quintana metro stations, in one of Madrid’s humble neighborhoods, there is a betting shop for 10 numbers of gate, approx.

    I hope I can make a lot of money at once this contributes to the fact that many people who already have limited financial resources worsen their situation and get into debt. It also affects their families, especially if the person is betting on goods such as car, house, etc.

      2. Take advantage of a highly standardized market

      The bookmaker market is in vogue. Its marketing campaigns are ubiquitous in the world of football, for example, and are widely disseminated on the Internet, even with the support of well-known faces on TV and Youtube videos.

      This standardization in the media which is seen by many young people makes you start to experience betting at a very young age.

      3. Internet anonymity

      Since betting sites have become popular, anyone can decide to start betting and do it in a matter of minutes from the privacy of their home, without exposing themselves to the prying eyes of friends and neighbors. It has become a gateway for new players and demographics they typically wouldn’t bet on.

      4. The illusion of being able to earn a lot of money

      Gambling addiction is supported by cognitive distortions that lead us to believe that it is better to bet than not. The truth is, mathematically, you are much more likely to lose a lot of money than to earn a fairly large amount, comparable to what you spent. However, the idea of ​​taking a chance and winning a fortune instantly it has such a powerful emotional charge that it manages to capture our attention, To make us think of this possibility beyond rationality.

      What to do?

      Many psychologists specializing in psychological care for patients are trained to help both people with gambling addictions and other types of addictions.

      Recovery, however, requires commitment, persistence and effort. with the support of a professional it is much easier and the success rate higher. Because in the therapy sessions we have created the necessary changes, both in our way of thinking and in the way we interact with the environment, to get out of the gambling addiction.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Becoña, B. (1993). The prevalence of pathological gambling in Galicia (Spain). Journal of Gambling Studies, 9: 353-369.
      • Espanyol (2019). A bookmaker every 100 meters: the game is fierce in the poor neighborhoods of Madrid.
      • Game Planning Branch (2015). Study on the prevalence, behavior and characteristics of gambling users in Spain 2015. Available at

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