One thing is to gamble, another is to gamble a lot, another is addiction. A further aspect to be considered concerns emphasizing the number of problematic gamblers, a figure that might turn out to be counterproductive (an accurate estimate helps prevention policies) while concealing other correlated issues (economic crisis, loneliness of elderly people, the lack of spaces for socialization), with the risk of transforming important social problems into specific health problems, that is the medicalization of gambling. Here we present the results of six studies conducted in the North of Italy in the period between 2000 and 2015: a social issue emerges, concentrated in particular places (e.g. cafés, tobacconist’s) where various types of games are available (e.g. slot machines, instant lotteries, scratch cards), and not always related to other types of addiction. Gambling is most widespread among males and increases with age, but factors that seem to affect intensive gambling are social rank (low level of education and non-professional condition), particular lifestyles (being overweight, cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse) and other behavioural disorders (compulsive shopping). It is estimates that there are 1.8 subjects with gambling-related problems who need treatment per one thousand residents, but only one in three turns to the health services, the most serious cases and with other concomitant issues (psychic disorders). This implies the need to promote and make known the services existing on the territory, and the need for a supply of innovative pathways oriented to a variety of targets, together with dedicated prevention initiatives.
Keywords: Gambling, pathological gambling, medicalization, prevention, health service