What exactly describes the circumstances faced by a gambler when there’s a persistent inability to stop gambling when undesired consequences result? Is it a “problem?” An “addiction?” A “compulsion?” An “obsession?” A “disease?” A “disorder?”

“Problem gambling” is the word many use to describe an array of issues that result from gambling behavior that’s damaging to an individual, their family or their broader community. “Problem gambling” is the umbrella term most often used to label this condition. It’s included in the name of the National Council on Problem Gambling, the Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance, and other groups.

While those of us working in this field have come to understand a variety of terms describing those with gambling problems, my colleagues and I were curious as to how the average citizen would describe “problem gambling.” We engaged a research firm to conduct focus groups to get a better understanding of what “problem gambling” means to the public, and what it perceives as differences between terms such as addictive, compulsive, obsessive, etc.

While the study results are in the process of being compiled, I wanted to share a finding that jumped out to us. Across all focus groups, the preference to describe this issue was not problem gambling. Instead, the phrase “addictive gambling” was considered most appropriate.

Does this mean we’ll be changing our letterhead to read “Northstar Addictive Gambling Alliance?” Well, not just yet. However, it does remind us that sometimes what we think we’re communicating is not what our audience always hears. This information is valuable to know as we work toward out mission of expanding awareness, understanding and knowledge of the very real gambling problems faced by people in our community.

Cathie Perrault
Executive Director, NPGA