Gambling addicts may not be able to stop, even if they want to

Gambling, like addictive drugs, can rewire the brain and cause gamblers to be unable to make rational decisions.
Gambling, like addictive drugs, can rewire the brain and cause gamblers to be unable to make rational decisions.ST FILE PHOTO

Mr Francis Tay believes that to avoid addiction, gamblers can and should exercise personal responsibility and self-discipline (Self-responsibility the answer, not govt action; May 5).

Having counselled hundreds of gamblers (including those addicted to jackpot machines), I can testify that compulsive gamblers are unable to stop gambling, even if they want to.

Research has shown that gambling, like addictive drugs, rewires one's brain, changing its structure, functioning and chemistry.

It damages the pre-frontal cortex, which enables rational decisions and helps override impulsive urges.

In layman terms, it is like a brain driving a car with no brakes.

Such a gambler cannot make rational decisions nor refrain from gambling, even if he wants to.

This explains why gambling addiction is difficult to treat.

There is no way of knowing before you start gambling whether you will become an addict.

Self-responsibility cannot be the answer. Neither is it wise to lay the onus of not falling into addiction solely on the individual, especially when the source and supply of such addictive activity is brought to his doorstep.

Former jackpot machine addict Madam Loh was quoted as saying: "The jackpot rooms are so easy to get into... The Government should slowly close them down." (Jackpot addict: I lost $10k in a day; April 30)

We should pay attention when former jackpot addicts are calling for the Government to disallow clubs offering easy unlimited access to jackpot machines in heartland estates.

When the authorities are in a position to protect the vulnerable, they should do so.

Billy Lee Han Tiong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Gambling addicts may not be able to stop, even if they want to'. Print Edition | Subscribe