Gambling addiction: a help from patient stories

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  • For the first time, new research identifies narrative markers of gambling addiction and paves the way for innovative approaches to therapy and prevention.

    For the first time, new research identifies narrative markers of gambling addiction and paves the way for innovative approaches to therapy and prevention.

    How do people affected by pathological gambling tell their story? What information can we extract from their stories? For the first time, a study by SISSA, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati and the University of Roma Tre analyzed in detail the words and language constructs used by people suffering from gambling.

    Tell your stories

    Researchers have identified several characteristics of their emotional and cognitive state at different stages of the disorder. The study, published in Addictive disorders and their treatment, opens up new scenarios for the development of recovery and prevention pathways based on language skills.

    Sharing personal experiences with friends or relatives, through storytelling, is an exercise that many of us do every day. Yet personal storytelling is by no means a trivial process. They help us organize and make sense of our history, allowing us to integrate the different aspects of our psychic experience, from the different eras, past, present and future, in which our mind lives.

    The words an individual uses when relating a fact or describing an inner condition reflect their psychological states and represent their particular cognitive and emotional style, their personality traits, as well as any symptoms of psychological disorders they may suffer from. This is why self-history is also an important gateway to emotional and cognitive processes used in research and therapeutic contexts.

    Analysis of the expressions and words of pathological gamblers

    For the first time, a group of researchers from SISSA and the University of Roma Tre analyzed the accounts of patients suffering from gambling addiction to identify the most common problems and suggest possible innovative treatments. In particular, the researchers interviewed 30 people suffering from a gambling disorder and undergoing therapy in public services in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

    The interviews, conducted in a semi-structured form, focused on different aspects of their gambling experience, from compulsive trait to attempts at desire control, from addiction triggers to those helpful in achieving abstinence and regaining control. The researchers then analyzed the words used by patients with LIWC (Linguistic Survey and Word Count), the most widely used software for computer language studies.

    No future and be manipulated

    We have identified different linguistic markers of the emotional and cognitive problems of the players, which vary according to the different phases of the addiction, explains Stefano Canali, researcher at the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of SISSA and at the Cosmic Lab of the University of Roma Tre, responsible for the study.

    Most obvious of all is the complete absence of words and phrases referring to the future. This is probably both an indication and a cause of how difficult it is for players to think about the effects of impulsive and risky behavior on their future.”

    Another narrative marker identified by the study was the contemporary use of first-person and passive expressions to talk about their relationship to play. It is as if the subject feels an agent and responsible for the behavior of play and, at the same time, as being acted, driven by desire and automatism.

    This narrative contradiction is a clear indication of a self, Canali says. “Finally, with these indicators comes an extreme difficulty in describing the emotional experiences related to the desire to gamble and the loss of control. This narrative deficit appears to improve with the therapeutic route. ”

    This is a pilot study that allowed us to show the importance of language analysis in understanding the psychological functions involved in addictions, Canali concludes. Clinically speaking, narrative markers can be a new supportive tool in the treatment process, as well as a possible means of recognizing those at risk.

    In addition, they pave the way for the use of techniques to strengthen narrative skills as complementary strategies in treatment. addictions, similar to those tested, for example, in patients suffering from autism.

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