Language and Stigma
We are hoping to contribute to challenging stigma around gambling, identifying harms on a continuum or spectrum. For some, at one end, there are few problems and they can be overcome quite easily, often without any support. Towards the other end, gambling behaviours move towards the serious mental illness called addiction. While that last word is itself very stigmatising, that is it contains a heavy load of negative stereotypes, judgments, and myths largely following on from a lack of knowledge, we think that it best captures the very painful condition it is for many. Beyond gambling, addiction to other behaviours and substances is a subject of anti-stigma campaigning. We wish to locate gambling addiction as having much in common with all other addictions, to mark it out as the severe state of mental and emotional distress that it is. It is not necessary or pleasant to label somebody as an ‘addict‘ for such labels dehumanise people, strip away their identity and replace it with a stereotyped ‘box’. It is better to refer to an individual as suffering from, or recovering from, or recovered from dealing with an addiction. Unfortunately, the word ‘gambling’ itself may contain negative weight for some people; indeed the phrase ‘mental illness’ can carry the weight of stigma.
Gambling addiction is the extreme point on the scale of gambling harms. Even here, there needs to be understood degrees of addiction, how severe it is for each individual, and the multi-dimensional factors impacting on the illness such as debt, housing, depression, anxiety, co-occurring substance dependence, relationships, employment. The majority of people who suffer gambling harms are not in a state of severe addiction, though they may be heading towards it.
The negative stereotypes around addiction are very pervasive, and will be internalised by the sufferer adding to misery and often preventing the seeking of support.
However. Many sufferers use the word addiction themselves in discussion. Others prefer terms such as ‘person with disordered gambling’ or ‘compulsive gambler’. Medical settings and – oddly, we think – some charities use terms such as ‘pathological gambler’ or ‘problem gambler’. The essential objection to such phrases is that they imply focus on the individual, possibly even their ‘responsibility’ for their condition, and blind us to the social, cultural and industrial elements in the creation of gambling harms. Inevitably, throughout this site, we’ll be quoting the words of others who may use words and phrases that would be better avoided.
For strategic reasons, because stripped of its stigma and crude stereotypes addiction is a serious mental illness, because it carries with it the idea of enslavement against one’s will, because it is a word in common usage, we shall refer to ‘addiction’ on this site. Sometimes, to remind ourselves of the big problems with the word, we’ll use ‘addiction‘. Language is never simple. And remember, the majority of people suffering as a result of gambling are not addicts.
All individuals who struggle with a gambling addiction have gambling problems but most people who have problems with gambling are not suffering with addiction.
One of the most intense debates and controversies around gambling centres on the extent to which the gambling industry gives voluntary funds to the majority of research, education and treatment. There are strong calls for this to change. During the current review of the 2005 Gambling Act there is growing consensus pressure to invoke a one per cent compulsory levy on gambling profits. This would be distributed by government. The worries are that at the moment, industry funding may prevent those funded from raising attention to the harms that are consequences of gambling industry practices such as in marketing and advertising, playing on basic psychological vulnerabilities, and designing products which are made to be addictive. Also, there is concern that treatment and education funded by industry are not sufficiently independently evaluated for efficiency, and at worst may serve as a public relations device more than anything. There is also concern that such funded organisations reinforce the industry’s narrative that gambling problems are centred upon a small minority of pathological individuals.
Some organisations in education and treatment fields are happy to work with the industry arguing that the best way to bring about reform is to engage in close dialogue with the industry.
This is one area that produces strong feelings among campaigners. Many advocate a landscape totally free of industry involvement or influence.
On this site, we provide links to industry funded initiatives, and leave you to make up your own mind. Support services, particularly, such as GamCare are funded by industry. In Scotland, there are few options for finding support, and GamCare is a main provider. Similary, Scottish education projects such as Fast Forward receive industry funding. Evaluation of such funded services is a separate matter. Their ‘value for money’ and effectiveness are subject to the same demands of accountability as any organisation operating in health or education fields. It’s also important to remember that if and when funding structures change, such as services being resourced by government from a compulsory levy upon gambling industry profits, staisfactorily evaluated services will be abe to continue just as they are – but without any claims of industry influence.