Gambling affects the brain in much the same way as drugs or alcohol, and a public health approach should used to regulate the industry, said an addiction and public health expert.

"The same reward circuitry that becomes dysfunctional when people become addicted to drugs like alcohol or cocaine is implicated in gambling as well," said Dr. Evan Wood, the medical director of addiction services at Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care.

"It's oftentimes almost indistinguishable."

Prohibition doesn't work: Dr. Wood

Wood said a "public health approach" is important in order to balance the benefits that can be gained through taxes and revenues from the gambling industry while at the same time ensuring people don't ruin their lives through problem gambling.

"It's a very common saying in public health, that that what is prohibited cannot be regulated," he said.

"The lesson from alcohol prohibition in terms of all the unintended consequences looms large in public health.

"[Gambling] is an activity that goes back thousands of years. Ancient Greek society was gambling, and it's something that's part of the human condition in many ways, and when you make something illegal it can cause all sorts of harms in terms of organized crimes and underground betting."

Former CFL star's addiction

Former B.C. Lions player Angus Reid spoke out about his gambling problem and eventual recovery on The Early Edition on Thursday, describing how at the height of his addiction he would go to the casino after practice ended at 1:30 p.m. and would stay there until 7:00 a.m. before heading directly to the next day's practice.

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B.C. Lions centre Angus Reid (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"I wouldn't sleep, I wouldn't do anything. As long as I could find ways to get money, I wouldn't leave," he said.

Reid, who retired from football in 2014, said he eventually overcame his addiction by signing up for the BCLC voluntary self-exclusion program, in which people can choose to exclude themselves from a variety of gaming facilities, giving security staff the authority to remove them from the facility if need be.

Dr. Wood told B.C Almanac host Michelle Eliot that the voluntary self-exclusion program is one such effective program that the BCLC offers, and says that there are also people working in many casinos who are trained to identify people who may be problem gamblers and make them aware of this and other types of interventions.


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Addictions expert says helping problem gamblers involves a public health approach