No Such Thing as “AN ADDICT”

Since we live in a sea of shared meanings for words we have to accept that there is something called ‘addiction’. One problem is that the word comes loaded with negative implications. It is put out in the cold by mental health services, left to itself in ‘addiction services’. In reality though, a person identified with having an addiction is experiencing the most frighteningly awful mental and emotional agony. This agony is amongst the most pervasive woes in our society. But you’ll usually hear ‘experts’ say thigs like, ‘Addiction sometimes causes mental disorders’. Which is as daft as saying something like, ‘Schizophrenia may lead to mental disorders’.

Certainly, addiction does find its own sections in medical manuals, though it’s often dressed up with phrases such as ‘alcohol dependence syndrome’. These medical manuals are headed by the psychiatrists bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. (DSM). This has gone through many versions. We’re currently at DSM 5 (revised). Each new version has added hundreds of ‘new’ psychiatric illnesses. It’s put together by a team of psychiatrists who agree that these ‘disorders’ exist, and describe how to spot them. You may think you’re shy but if you check the manual you’ll discover that really you’re suffering from quite a list of disorders such as ‘social anxiety disorder’. If you are gay and checked for disorders up to 1973 versions of the manual you will find that homosexuality is categorically defined as a mental disorder, one of many such from a range of sexual ‘perversions’.

In practice, there are psychiatrists who specialise in ‘addiction’, along with many therapists (especially if you can afford them). As for treatment and diagnosis, you’re likely to get three different suggestions from three different psychiatrists. Treatment and diagnoses vary widely too across different countries and cultures. The chances are not good that you will meet up with a wise, kind psychiatrist who will treat you as a human being rather than treating you as something broken to be fixed with medications. In any case, the effect of the Tory government’s 2010 onwards policies around ‘addiction’ have seen both a savage cut in services and a cut in specialist doctors.

Commissioners (the people who dish out money for services) demand results, evidence of successful ‘outcomes’ within limited time frames. The whole tendency of mental health support to be characterised by cost analysis, quantifiable ‘recovery rates’, effectiveness and productivity means that a person becomes a unit on a conveyor belt. Many excellent charities and other third sector organisations have closed after losing funding because they could not meet the rigid requirements of evaluation. So, for instance, whereas anybody with the slightest understanding of human suffering knows that some people will need years of support including attention to social needs such as housing, each unit in the current model is expected to ‘get well’ in six weeks.

If you’re lucky and can survive the waiting list you may get a short course of cognitive behavioural therapy for anything from suicidal despair to mild depression. CBT is greatly over-hyped. It is very helpful for many people but utterly inappropriate for others. Similarly, medications such as ‘anti-depressants’ work no better than sugar pills for half the people prescribed (and that’s a lot of people). Even worse, despite years of denial from Big Pharma and psychiatrists, it can no longer be hidden that withdrawal from these medications can be devastating – and GPs are not yet aware enough of these dreadful withdrawal effects. Again, for some people medication helps (anti-depressants seem to be good for people with severe depression, not for the majority who suffer mild to moderate depression).

Given that commonly presented mental and emotional distress is diagnosed with one of the many types of depression and/or anxiety and treated with the conveyor belt approach of pills and/or talking therapy such as CBT (and there are 500 other talking therapies around as well as CBT), may we ask what has become of the unique individual, their unique feelings and expressed needs, their very humanity?

If this is the case for ‘respectable’ illnesses such as depression and anxiety, what hope for those seeking help with dirty ‘addiction’? What universal, abstract boxes do people find themselves put into? In the case of gambling, only 3% of those in need of support receive help although the NHS gambling clinics in England are a welcome development. Probably it is true that for the majority of people who are sad, traumatised, despairing, broken, maybe just totally flat and merely surviving, informal human support is best. Those with similar experiences (but never, never identical experiences) are, as throughout history, the greatest source of encouragement, support and hope. Groups like 12-steps and SMART Recovery, recovery cafes, groups for men or women suffering various mental and emotional distress, all of these work more than pills and experts for most people because they are community which means com-unity which means with unity which means all for one and one for all. You won’t find this in a syringe, a bottle, a bookies. Or a waiting room.

If you are seeking help, don’t exclude doctors but be aware of their limitations (which is not their fault of course) in terms of the above, and the tremendous pressures to wheel them in and get them out as fast as possible. You may have the good fortune to have a doctor who really does have the human factor and who somehow against tremendous odds finds time to share with you their common humanity. Some doctors will reach for the prescription pad perhaps too quickly; the best will often only prescribe pills as the very last resort, and support you to find much healthier ways to tackle distress than ingesting drugs. Like so much in life it’s down to luck. Many of us have had the good fortune to encounter a doctor, a teacher, a priest, just a human being, who has changed our life for the better.

Seek humanity first and foremost. But don’t forget the hugely supportive services that can address aspects of life that need support. Citizens Advice is an excellent place to start for many people. If you’re not comfortable in one GA or AA group find another. If you are a woman who doesn’t feel attracted to what tend to be male dominated groups go online and find others in your position – or start your own group. Doing something like starting your own group can be empowering for those who feel powerless. Avoid any service or group or individual that seems cocksure of itself as the only path to heaven. Avoid those who are constantly congratulating their own excellence, boasting about themselves. Look for those who are tentative, those who use words like ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly’. Nobody can sell you a perfect future, and those who pretend they can are no better than snake oil merchants.

You may find yourself one day sitting next to somebody very different than you. Much older or younger, a different gender, a Christian or Muslim or atheist, a criminal or a vicar. Somebody whose life, like yours, is totally unique, and whose character and inner experiences of woes and joys is so different than yours. That person may become your best friend. For whatever our differences we share a common core of humanity. You or they are not ‘addicts’: you are a vital spirit who may have lost sight of that because, for now, you and they and we suffer from what, for convenience only, we call addiction.

Beat the Fix: looking back and forwards

John who lost his son to gambling. A still from our forthcoming film ‘One Last Spin’

Quite some time since we set up The Machine Zone, our community interest company – which sounds la-di-da but has actually been two guys working hard to contribute a little bit to raising awareness about gambling damage, and campaigning to get harms reduced. It’s felt like the equivalent of a fulltime job with lots of overtime but we are just one of hundreds of similar individuals and small groups. We’re not remotely in the same area as those receiving millions in funding from the gambling industry and nor would we ever wish to be.

We started by focusing on the scourge of fixed odds betting terminals in bookies shops. Along with many other victims with lived experience we campaigned against this ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. Many members of parliament, some newspapers, more than a few academics, social justice organisations, churches, city councils, British medical and psychiatry associations, and many prominent individuals were also campaigning and these machines had their maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2. So instead of being able to lose £300 in a minute of roulette, the most popular game, you could now lose ‘only’ £6 – or more than £300 in an hour. They continue to represent a cause of harm, especially in the most deprived communities where bookies cluster. The ARCHIVE section of this site contains stuff about these machines and the campaign.

Of course, the focus now is on the casino in your pocket, the saturation advertising and enticements to gamble 24/7, the grooming of children via loot boxes, the embedding of gambling into football and other sports, and the harms arising from scratch cards including those promoted by the National Lottery. While the latter does indeed fund many not only worthy but often life saving causes, there is growing concern that especially the poorest people are being harmed by its products. They also contributed to the £1 billion profit of the firm behind the lottery, Camelot, over the lockdown period. One may question also whether as a society we want vital services funded by gambling which disproportionally may harm the most vulnerable.

Anyway! We won’t be seeking funding from the National Lottery. We did get NHS funding this year, our first ever funding, for our anti-stigma work which includes a new website that features a compelling interview with Martin, the main man behind all our work. We’re now well into production of a film, One Last Spin, delayed by lockdown but scheduled for a premiere in December. Then in 2022 we will be doing screenings in community venues. These will initially be in Glasgow but we’re hoping to take it all over Scotland in the future. Looking forward to a trip to the Orkeny Isles!

The film features interviews with four people, including Martin, who have experienced dire harm from gambling. Complementing the interviews will be dramatised sequences to go with each story. Also in the film is Ronnie Cowan MP Inverclyde and Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gamblingg Harms, Professor Gerda Reith of Glasgow University who has many decades of research into gambling, and Will Griffiths who led the Alliance Scotland Health & Social Care) project to set up forums of lived experience throughout Scotland. He’s since left to take up a role as policy advisor with the Scottish government. We welcome his replacement, Georgina Charlton and greatly look forward to working with her.

Professor Gerda Reith

We’d further like to welcome Fay Laidler who from October, as part of a PhD project, will be complementing the Alliance work by seeking to establish lived experience testimonies from women and Black, Asian & Minority Ethnicities.

Made up too to welcome Chris Lee as a Machine Zone Director. He’s building up a much-needed peer support service in Scotland called Chatter.

Our work over the past four and a half years has been hard and tiring, sometimes discouraging, but we’ve been surrounded by so many wonderful individuals and groups fired with passion to tackle a big source of distress and misery to so many. We’ll never walk alone, and we’ll carry on doing our little bit.

Stigma: Tell Your Story

Stigma, shame, guilt can be a heavy load to bear leading to a horrible sense of isolation with nowhere to turn.

We’re working on a project, to be delivered online by March 2021, which aims to reduce the stigma around gambling by awareness-raising, provide ideas for individuals to cope with stigma, and share lived experience of gambling stigma. How bad was it? Did it stop you – or does it stop you – from reaching for support? Did you find ways to handle internalised stigma and the deep sense of shame or guilt that went with it? Was stigma particularly worse for you because, for instance, you are a woman or member of a community which has strong condemnation of addiction?

We’d love to hear from you. A short piece of writing maybe, using a pen name if you like. Or a long piece. Would you be prepared to take part in a Zoom session to discuss various aspects of gambling stigma? In all cases we will respect requests for strict anonymity.

Sharing your story will help others immediately to see that they are not at all alone in their feelings of isolation and any shame or guilt, that these are further intense bad feelings that come with addiction. Any ways you found to cope with stigma will also help people greatly.

If you can take part please send us your thoughts. As said, short or long – and sometime one or two sentences can be powerful. Please indicate whether you’d be prepared to consider taking part in a Zoom event.

We’re also very keen to hear from organisations working in the gambling field which have experience of how damaging stigma is to people they work with.

Please respond by email to

themachinezone@planetmail.net

or DM us on our twitter handle, @themachinezone.

Get in touch too if you have any questions.

Gambling and the Attention Economy

The gambling industry does not exist in a vacuum, nor does the consumer of products. Every business seeks to grab our attention – through advertising, social media and other ways. As individuals, we are saturated by claims on our attention. Our shared psychology in the digital age is marked by fragmented impulses, by accelerated time, by an imperative ‘normality’  that works against any hope of rest or peace.

The 24/7 stream of hooks on our attention is relentless. In the case of gambling, this is supplemented by products themselves which are designed to be addictive. They offer, paradoxically, a single point of attention which is, like any addiction, the release from the never-ending pressures of time, the chaos of information.

Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll shows how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the “machine zone,” in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away.

Competition for our attention is intense and part of trillion dollars budgets of digital industries. If you have never made an impulse purchase from the internet you are very much the exception. We have to acknowledge the possibility that our growing restlessness is a digitally induced dis-ease with time. What are referred to as  clinical diagnoses, attention deficit disorder or hyperactive attention deficit disorder, may be now  normalised attributes of digitized citizens (to varying extents in individuals).

In practice, we are primed by digital technology to be restless and compulsive. It is not a question of individual responsibility or strength of character. The exploitation of this primed state is the core driver of the attention economy.

 

The Problem with “Problem Gamblers”

In the bad old days,  among the cruel behaviours of teachers was to make a child sit facing a corner and wear a hat with ‘Dunce’ written on it. If that didn’t make  them learn and behave properly, a child could expect a thrashing for their irresponsible waywardness.

More progressive education renamed ‘dunces’ as ‘problem children’.

Now, of course, in more enlightened times we speak of ‘problem schools’ as the main reason for between a quarter and a fifth of school leavers being functionally illiterate after eleven years of education. It has been a great leap forward for  society to recognise that the ‘problems’ may have something to do with the education system itself.

This month (July 2020) has seen the UK government launch a ‘war on obesity’. Proposals include advertising bans, stopping two for one incentives on junk foods, public health campaigns, taxes on industry, education, more help from primary health care and so on. There are critics of all this. They say that people should be able to eat whatever they want to, they are free to make their own choices and shouldn’t have that freedom removed by the nanny state. Parents, they say, have the right to feed their children whatever they like. The fact that unhealthy, fattening food is cheap should not stop poor responsible people making sensible meals with basic nutritious items such as turnips: if they can afford widescreen televisions and smartphones , they can afford to eat well. But such is the devastating impact on health and the economy, the state is now proposing to get tough, go beyond voluntary industry actions and the good sense of consumers.

After decades of denial the tobacco industry accepted that their product was both addictive and highly detrimental to health. Stringent government action has seen a huge fall in the number of people smoking.  A total ban on advertising and marketing, removal of branding on cigarette packs along with reference to tar and nicotine content which some took to allow for a choice of ‘safer smoking’, severe annual rises in duty, a ban on smoking in public places, and the hiding from sight of tobacco products in shops. Alongside this, smoking cessation programmes are free to everybody. Individuals remain free to use tobacco if they so wish.

These days, at the tobacco counter in a shop, the tobacco products are screened from sight. (It’s worth noting that alcohol is still freely on display, but that’s a different story for now). At the front of the counter, inches from the customer are advertisements for the National Lottery and a range of scratchcards priced from £1 to £5 each. Like sweets placed at a supermarket till they make impulse purchases more likely. They’re also an indicator of how normalised respectable gambling has become. A website called casinoplay.com warns the public that ‘it can actually be quite hard to win one of the top prizes.’ It advises that to increase your chances you should buy scratchcards in bulk.

The Myth of the ‘Responsible’ v ‘Problem Gambler’

Unlike smoking and obesity, the risks associated with gambling aren’t associated with physical health (except in the many tragic cases of suicide). Gambling risks include financial ruin, turning to crime, family and relationships breakdown, mental illness. Many sources of information refer to the incidence of gamblers running into such conditions is ‘only’ 0.5% of the adult population (the same way as ‘only’ 0.5% of the the population are schizophrenic). There are other figures for children and young people, and for adults ‘at risk’ of being in the 0.5%. Data is never simple. It isn’t always available. It’s a snapshot of a previous period in time. It requires interpretation – and these interpretations differ. But if the 0.5% figure is taken as it is, given the personal suffering indicated above, plus the damage to immediate others such as family, plus societal costs is not that alone reason to give gambling damage the same weighting as a serious mental disorder such as schizophrenia? And unlike schizophrenia which, although it can be managed and treated well, in many cases very difficult to treat and manage, are not problems associated with gambling more easily attenuated using the approaches we have seen with tobacco, and beginning with junk food?

Yet it’s sometimes implied that if there are only 300,000 or so people in deep trouble because of gambling, that’s all right. They didn’t stop when the fun stopped. No one made them spend much more than they could afford: they were irresponsible. It was down to their having that much-cherished freedom to chose, but making the wrong choices. Many millions more enjoy the fun of a flutter. The appeal to the ‘millions who safely (and responsibly) enjoy a flutter’ is something of an industry catchphrase, and it needs unpicking.

Having placed the ‘problem gamblers’ into a sort of pathological ghetto, the logic goes that everybody else is a ‘responsible gambler’, enjoying a harmless flutter. This isn’t so.

In all our lives fortune rises and falls, and this is more nearly literal in the case of the regular happy flutterer. A regular bettor or gambler will win some, lose some, and for the great majority, over time will lose more than they win. Winning £25 on a £5 scratchcard won’t compensate for the many weeks of getting into debt with rent or power or council tax after buying four such cards each week. The strain on marriages and families will increase as essential money leaks into slots or online gambling. The wage packet won’t be spent on days out with the kids or new school clothes. Things will be pawned, payday loans become essential as credit is refused elsewhere and credit cards are maxed out. Loans from friends and family go unpaid. There may be catastrophic times, perhaps a threat of eviction or repossession, survived only by a hair’s width and that survival with ongoing negative financial consequences. (Sometimes, such a catastrophe can be the impetus to stop gambling). Anxiety, depression, arguments may go with the territory. The danger of becoming one of the statistics in that ‘problem gambler’ ghetto may increase. As it is, there are many whose quality of life is negatively affected by gambling, and they don’t show up in the statistics.

Now obviously, this is painting a bleak picture. Not everybody who enjoys a doughnut or two will incur an obesity-related illness. Most people do spend money responsibly and can enjoy a harmless flutter. There is, of course, even for them a risk of going beyond the harmless flutter. Even somebody new to betting and gambling can (not will) spiral down to dangerous levels.

What’s needed is research into the ‘twilight zone’ of gambling-induced harms. This is an area which has to involve personal testimonies of experience over time. It’s especially important in relation to young people who have been nurtured in a normalised gambling environment. It may lead to a more nuanced understanding of the scale and nature of gambling harms than that offered by dominant narratives of ‘problem gamblers’ versus the rest of us.

 

‘Personal Responsibility’ and Addiction

One of the hottest topics relating to addiction is the concept of personal responsibility. Do addicts bring it on themselves? Are addicts morally weak? Do addicts repeatedly fail in recovery because they refuse to take on responsibility?

On the other hand, it can be rightly claimed that all this emphasis on the individual is distorting an understanding of addiction. If, as some claim, addiction is a ‘disease’ how can people be responsible for it? Why is there virtually no alcohol addiction in Saudi Arabia (where alcohol is prohibited by law)? What social factors play a part in addiction? Do some commercial products – tobacco is an example – ‘hook’ some people in the right circumstances?

There is no such thing as an addict; there are only individuals suffering with addiction. Everybody is different, but some groups seem more prone to addiction to others. In the professions journalists, the police, doctors, entertainers, sportspeople and politicians have high rates of addiction. So too do people with multiple and complex disadvantages such as homelessness, poverty, lack of educational and cultural capital, mental illness, criminal background, adverse childhood experiences, trauma – or just one of these.

And people from different social backgrounds seem to be treated very differently when their addictions come to light. Newspaper readers will weep over the death of a pop idol through drugs; a politician will be praised for his ‘brave struggle’ against alcohol. In popular culture – films, books and television – we have come to expect our flawed heroes often to have an addiction problem as one of their flaws, a lonewolf cop bucking the rules and knocking back malt whisky while meditating on a case, a singer in rehab, a public figure making public penance.

Less favourably are seen the ‘scagheads’, the ‘junkies’,  the street addicts, the working class addicts. Although victims all their lives of unequal and unjust social conditions, turning to drugs or drink or gambling to escape if only for a moment, it is they who are most harshly blamed and despised for their lack of responsibility – while those with a lifetime of advantages are treated with adulation and sympathy.

In his remarkable book, Good Cop Bad War, former undercover cop Neil Woods charts his journey of increasing knowledge through the ‘low life’ of desperate addicts (in contrast to the venomous gangster business cartels that bring drugs to market). He grow increasingly sympathetic to the friends he makes while pretending to be himself an addict. Apart from their addiction, most are essentially decent, often intelligent, kind and caring. One such friend , Cammy, tells him his heart-felt news that he has heard a good friend has died. Neil asks whether he will go to the funeral to say goodbye and Cammy replies, ‘I’m not going to the funeral. I wouldn’t do that to the family. The last thing they want is some dirty junkie turning up and ruining everything.’ As Woods observes, ‘No matter how society may condemn and look down on the addict, it is never, ever as low a view as he has of himself.’

That internalisation of social attitudes and stigma is something all addicts have to deal with. Part of them remains ‘clean’ and is a constant accusing voice; the addict hates themself. Guilt and shame alone can maintain an addiction – that belief of such utter worthlessness that there is no point in trying to stop, instead seeking that absurd temporary negation of inner torment with a fix.

Of course, those with a lot going for them tend to do better. Not everybody, of course: the nature of every individual addiction, while having common attributes, is unique in the complexities of an individual. It’s probably easier on the whole if you’re, say, a teacher to have three months leave on full pay to attend rehab, or just to get your life together, than if you are without any money, any support, any care, any love, surviving in brutal conditions. Though yes, many who seem to have well insulated lives with all the support in place do succumb, grow sick and die. And yes, too, some at the very bottom recover and flourish.

There are as many as 40% of addicts who recover spontaneously, relatively painlessly, without any intervention by ‘experts’ or support organisations. A well known example of this is ‘maturing out’ whereby young people who have addictive or risky tendencies literally grow out of them when they settle into employment, get married, start a family. Another famous example is how 80% of American soldiers deemed heroin addicted in Vietnam lost their addiction when they returned to the States and their families. Against this, many others in recovery are certain that addiction is a disease for life and that the only way to manage it is by faithfully following a programme such as a 12-steps one.

A word is needed here too about dependence versus addiction. Through force of habit, culture, lifestyle, many drinkers, for instance consume not only health-damaging amounts but quantities which make them physically dependent. The withdrawal from physical dependency can be life- threatening and ideally requires medical supervision. Yet many heavy drinkers then go onto just stop or greatly limit consumption: they were heavy drinkers, not alcohol addicts. There is an additional dependence which is separate from addiction – psychological dependence. Partly this is just the force of habit, neural correlates in the brain ‘speaking’ loudly to perform an action when certain triggers arise. Usually one can become psychologically dependent on a substance or activity to avoid stress, negative feelings or often an undiagnosed mental disorder such as anxiety and depression. Dependence can, and often does, lead to addiction but it’s still possible to recognise a dependence and take responsibility for halting it with acceptance of necessary effort and suffering which will vary greatly in terms of time and intensity according to unique individuals in unique circumstances.

Addiction by its very nature, the heart of addiction, disowns the individual’s core self. It disowns the possibility of being responsible for one’s destiny, for making deep choices. No addict will be able to understand what is going on. They are fully aware of the misery they leave in their wake, of their loss of pride, reputation, money, health, relationships, status, children. They desperately want to stop. But they can’t. In the old days people spoke of a demon inside that controlled them. The demon took them over. This degree of inner torment varies from individual to individual. It’s certainly true that there are many ‘highly functioning addicts’ in all walks of life, folk nobody begins to suspect as being an addict, and, of, course, another core attribute of addiction is the addict’s propensity to deny their addiction. It’s for this reason that common wisdom has it that people must ‘hit rock bottom’ before they can start to recover. This is, fortunately, a myth. It may be true that a secret gambler’s addiction only comes to light when the bailiffs arrive to take the family home and he or she spirals into heavy debt, bankruptcy, prison or failed suicide attempts. But in many cases – often in consort with worried others – many are lucky enough to address their addiction before absolute calamity.

The foregoing suggests just a few of the strands in the complexity of an individual’s addiction. If there is a common attribute of addiction it is that to take responsibility for recovery one must already have made a vital move. This vital move, this perception that one is not only the addicted self, is the precursor of recovery. For some, this vital move is totally unconscious and involves little pain and effort, for others it is a lifelong process.

To conclude, to return to the topic of addiction and responsibility. All of us are a product of our environments, probably more so than products of our genes. Children have been sold drugs from icecream vans (dealers do not ask for age verification or advise responsible use of their products) so 12= year-olds have become heroin addicts. The vans are part of the environment, behind the vans are networks of the drugs business, also part of the environment. People continue to smoke cigarettes but on the packets is written ‘smoking kills’, and tobacco is more and more restricted by government policies: it’s recognised that tobacco addiction is not the result of weak responsibility in individuals. Campaigns to restrict and limit junk food (itself addictive), sugar, salt, fat are not controversial. People argue about minimum pricing for alcohol, but the argument is not seen as being around any bizarre claims. In short, government and industry are seen as having a major role in addressing the damage that harmful products may do to individuals and society, including addictive products.

Current debate about addiction is skewed towards a focus on individual responsibility. Just as a parent is deemed responsisible for feeding their children high doses of sugar and fat (These being by far the cheapest foods to buy for those in poverty), so the addict is held reponsible for choosing their addiction (even if this was motivated by a need to escape misery and despair into 20 minutes of arificial paradise). There are no jackpots, magic fixes that will ever beat the scourge of addiction but government and industry have to stop denying their role in attenuating it.

 

One Last Spin: Update

We’ve suspended filming for One Last Spin for now. This is in common with most but essential working as Coronavirus continues. Planned interviews with people in different parts of the UK will be rearranged.

The time won’t be wasted as it will afford us an ongoing opportunity to research subject matter. We’ve taken note of an increased emphasis by campaigners and academics upon the supply side of gambling, including product design. This has been a focus of research for some experts for many years, and something that often lone voices of ‘ordinary’ people have been expressing for a very long time. There are now organisations such as Gamvisory, a user-level group which seeks to involve ‘experts by experience’ in representing a vitally important but to date virtually absent role in influencing gambling policy.

Similarly, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland are taking the lead in the three years National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms which will take a public health and population approach which ‘will put the voice of lived experience at the heart of the process.’ In fact, today an event to discuss ways forward of such involvement had to be postponed (and some of our potential interviewees were thereby unavailable).

One Last Spin will add to the growing media of ‘experts by experience’. For instance, check out the videos at Gambling with Lives, a wonderful yet tragically based user-led organisation discussing bereavement of those who have lost loved ones through gambling suicide.

It’s encouraging too to see the interaction going on between academics and the people whose voices matter so much and have been often unheard. As in all generalisations this hides the truth that many UK politicians and academics have long met with individuals badly hurt, sometimes ruined, by contemporary gambling.

One such researcher is Professor Rebecca Cassidy, whose fieldwork included working in a bookies as a cashier. Her recent book, Vicious Games: Capitalism and Gambling is a gem. We have written a short review of it here. It covers many areas of gambling but one thing that stands out for us is her attention to the paucity of much gambling research and the need to move towards qualitative research involving the neglected voices at the heart of the matter.

It’s in this sort of spirit that One Last Spin is being made.

 

 

Busy, Busy

Our documentary is coming along nicely. A fair bit of pre-production done and a few weeks before we start filming.

After many delays it’s looking like there is a good chance we can get our drama piece about digital gambling into Barlinnie Prison. Yup! We’re trying to get into prison!

Martin’s been especially busy adding to his already great network of contacts, including a trip to Westminster last week and meeting up socially with Gambling with Lives / The Big Step who completed the long walk from Reading FC to Wembley. Check out the Gambling with Lives website.

Grassroots campaigns are driven by the dreadful suffering caused by some aspects of the gambling industry. Others, who have no personal experience of gambling, are joining them as awareness grows. Politicians from all sides, academics, addiction workers, psychologists and the media are raising their voices all over the world.

Nobody who hasn’t known it can presume to imagine the pain of losing a loved one to suicide brought on by gambling. A countless number have had life ruined by less tragic losses. It’s a public health issue that should have far more awareness and treatment facilities, but it must begin with prevention.