Many people enjoy the occasional bet between friends. It’s innocent fun. The lottery too, is a harmless way to feel like you can still dream of a life of big money and luxury.
But there’s a line.
And that line is very easy to cross.
It’s the line where the casual bet makes way for a craving, to play more and more; to chase your losses as they grow disproportionately.
For compulsive gamblers and their loved ones, life is a constant, uphill struggle. Food disappears from the table, and all income is fed into “that machine”, as it grows fatter and fatter.
What’s worse, a compulsive gambler rarely realizes that he or she has a problem, and will not seek help until the situation becomes desperate.
It is a nightmare that is incredibly hard to wake up from.
In fact, “compulsive gambling has been regarded as a progressive illness which can never be cured but can be arrested” (Barker, Miller, 1968).
This is where science and technology step in, bringing hope to victims of compulsive gambling, and their suffering families.
Psychiatrists (Barker, Miller, 1968) at Shelton Hospital in Shrewsbury, England, hand-picked a group of compulsive gamblers, to find out how treatment via electric jolts would affect their gambling habits.
All participants were compulsive gamblers. Most of them had lost numerous jobs, some even served time in prison, as a result of their addiction. Gambling had caused them considerable emotional distress and left them in serious financial difficulties.
Despite this, and their best intentions to quit gambling, they had always failed to do so successfully.
In the experiment, the participants were asked to take part in a number of gambling-related activities. Some were asked to play their favorite slot machine, brought on loan from the betting shop. Others were asked to watch videos of themselves in the betting shop, placing bets on horses.
During these activities, the participants were given small, harmless electric jolts to the wrist. The jolts did not cause any damage or injury. However, they were sufficiently painful to overcome the participants’ deep-rooted desire to gamble.
More importantly though, the electric jolts were incredibly effective!
Each of the participants underwent between 5 and 12 hours of treatment. At the end of the treatment, 100% reported they had developed an aversion to gambling.
Emotions ranged from disinterest towards gambling, to “being sick of it” and wanting to “throw [the machine] through the window”!
Remember, these were people afflicted with a very strong gambling habit. They had tried and failed numerous times to break this habit, despite the pain, misery, overwhelming debt, and other problems that it had caused them and their loved ones.
Yet, in an incredibly brief period of time —less than 12 hours— their habit was broken for good.
The story for this group of people gets better. All of them returned to a normal life.
When re-assessed two years later, they had repaid their debts and put back together their lives. While some reported a relapse, a brief sequence of “booster” sessions helped them get back on track.
The results and conclusions of the researchers are more than encouraging:
“There is scope for refinements in techniques but we are of the opinion that aversion therapy has much greater clinical potential than is at present realised.” (Barker, Miller, 1968)
Barker, J. C., & Miller, M. (1968, 12). Aversion Therapy For Compulsive Gambling. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 146(4), 285-302. doi: 10.1097/00005053-196804000-00002
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Habits, Technology & Behavioral Change