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.

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