Better Living

HOST: Valerie Pringle

GUEST: Dr. Durand Jacobs, First Vice-President, National Council on Problem Gambling; Howard Faulkner, Director, Alberta Alcohol & Drug Abuse Commission

PRINGLE: Legalized gambling's an issue Canadians have debated fairly hotly over the years -- from lottery tickets to provincially-sanctioned casinos, which are springing up all over the place. It's an opportunity obviously for the provincial governments to make some money, but one social cost is an increase in gambling addition, which is the focus of a conference taking place in Alberta today.

And with us from Edmonton, Howard Faulkner, who's a director of Alberta's Alcohol & Drug Abuse Commission, and Doctor Durand Jacobs, who's an internationally-recognized expert in gambling addiction based down in Loma Linda University in California. Let me start with you, Doctor Jacobs. I mean, with these casinos particularly springing up all over the place and the provincial governments thinking it's a great way to make money, obviously there are many people who warn of the cost of this. Is there an increase in gambling addiction when this happens?

JACOBS: Yes, of course. When an enterprise is being promoted, the name of the game is to get more people to participate. And the more people participate and the more accessible the gambling venue is, the more people are in it -- and along with that, the more people begin to experience difficulties with their gambling behaviour.

PRINGLE: Well, who's susceptible? I mean, in all these years of research -- I mean, I know I've talked about gambling addiction in interviews over many years -- what more do we know now about who's susceptible?

JACOBS: Well, we've found out that gambling is perhaps as democratic an activity as one can find. It welcomes anyone of whatever age, sex, ethnic background, education, you name it. And any one of those people across that broad spectrum can run into problems with gambling, as they do with other addictive behaviours -- not because it's there but because they're predisposed. And they find it and there's this marriage, this "Oh wow, where has this been all my life?" And they fall into it to satisfy a need to get rid of stresses, a need to get away from themselves, a need to escape the humdrum life or the noise or the problems at home, to be someone else. And many people play the bigshot role when they're gambling. They're greeted; the red carpet's out; and the vacuum cleaner has many smiles as it draws the money from their pockets.

PRINGLE: Yeah, and so men and women equally and --?

JACOBS: Well, it hasn't been quite that egalitarian, but women are catching up. When I did my first studies of women in Gamblers Anonymous back in 1981, about fourteen percent were ladies. Recent studies just a year or so ago found that 33 percent of Gamblers Anonymous are now comprised of women, and that figure is rapidly rising.

PRINGLE: Gee. Well, Howard Faulkner -- I mean, if you look at the situation in Alberta specifically, how serious a problem is it?

FAULKNER: Well, [unclear] Lotteries and Gaming in Alberta undertook a prevalence study in January of this year, and they released that study. And when they released it, they found that 5.4 percent of the Alberta population does have a problem with gambling. And at the same time they released that study, they also gave us a three-year contract to deliver programs in prevention, education, and treatment of gambling.

PRINGLE: So, is that the payoff? "We're collecting this much money, so we'll give you some to deal with the fallout" -- is that how it's viewed?

FAULKNER: Well, I think the way it's viewed is that the majority of the population doesn't have a problem with gaming, and actually there are a lot of beneficiaries of the gaming industry. So when somebody does have a problem though, it is devastating. And I think our role then is to assist those.

PRINGLE: Well, let's get Doctor Jacobs because this is your area of specialization. You've been analysing this for years. Let's talk about it. You say the gambler has a personality that, basically once they meet up with gambling, it's a pretty potent mix. How do you identify a problem? And how do you help someone? And again, what advances have been made in that field in the past decade or so?

JACOBS: Well, the public attitude towards gambling today is pretty much like it was towards alcoholism twenty or thirty years ago. Most people don't recognize that one can become addicted to gambling just as one can become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Even persons who are heavily involved and in great difficulty because of their gambling think they're having money problems or it's a run of bad luck. They just don't see themselves as possibly addicted to this activity. Most people think of addiction as associated with some kind of substance, not with an activity.

So, the first thing that has to be done is increase public awareness that there is a product safety issue here -- that for most folks, as Mr. Faulkner points out, gambling is just fun and games. And I think that both of us should be recognized as neither pro nor con as far as gambling is concerned. In my work, I treat the casualties of gambling. That's because of the work I'm in as a psychologist. But gambling is pushed as a cornucopia of dreams, a quick fix, money pouring in, good times, wow-ee. But for a minority of folks, the dream is a nightmare.

PRINGLE: Well, tell me a story.

JACOBS: Well, let me give you one story that illustrates both of the things I was talking about. I was referred a young man about sixteen years of age, who was in considerable difficulty. He'd withdrawn; his school work had gone to pot. He was confusing to the family, and they were worried about him. Something was going on; they knew something was going on. And so they referred him to me, and I examined this young man. And afterwards, he knew that I'd be contacting his parents, and I did. I spoke to the mother and I said, "Your son is addicted." "Oh really," she said. "Yes, he's addicted to gambling and in some serious trouble." "Gambling! Oh thank God," she said, "I thought it was drugs."

PRINGLE: Really.

JACOBS: And that's the public attitude.

PRINGLE: Well, what do you do about it? I mean, is it like Gamblers Anonymous, like AA? Is that basically the only way out?

JACOBS: Yes, exactly. Yeah, Gamblers Anonymous is second only to AA in terms of being a very old self-help group. It's built on the same self-help model as AA. And up until very recently, it's been the only kind of help available. Very few professionals have been trained in dealing effectively with addictions, and of course gambling least of all because we're just beginning to understand how pervasive this is. And indeed, I believe gambling will be the fastest-growing addiction in the 1990s and early in the year 2000.

PRINGLE: Well, Howard Faulkner, let me say to you just to wrap up here. You know, you've been given a budget to deal with this. You know, the provinces are into this, and it's legal. How do you deal with this problem? How do you identify the people who have difficulties, and how do you actually go about getting at them and helping them?

FAULKNER: Well, I think one of the biggest things that we have to do is we have to have an effective education and prevention program as well as accessible treatment. And that's what we're working on right now. And certainly with the public forum that we have going on right now over the next couple of days -- what we're trying to do now is create public awareness of the issue. Because although AADAC has been involved with alcohol and drug abuse for some forty years, we've been only dealing with problem gambling for four months. And so I think we have to get the message out there to the public and to allied professionals. And those are the people that are attending our conference here today.

PRINGLE: Well, thank you both very much for being with us this morning. Good luck with this work.

JACOBS: Thank you.

FAULKNER: Thank you very much.