According to the Observatory of the Ministry of Health, 1.3 million people in Italy suffer from pathological gambling addiction. In 2019, EUR 19.40 billion was spent on gambling in our country. Traditionally, to prevent the risk of developing forms of pathological gambling, educational and information initiatives are set up to raise awareness, analyse and monitor gamblers’ behaviour, and train health workers, educators and teachers. As is happening in many other areas related to health care and promotion, the prevention of this form of addiction is also experiencing a significant acceleration towards the application of advanced technologies, in particular artificial intelligence(AI) and virtual reality(VR). Such solutions are geared towards the early identification of individuals with a neurobiological vulnerability for gambling addiction, with a view to implementing targeted and appropriate interventions on a ‘sensitive’ target population.
The use of artificial intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play a crucial role in collecting and analysing data on gamblers’ behaviour, enabling a more accurate assessment of individual trends and vulnerabilities.
Machine learning algorithms can analyse huge amounts of data from different sources on gaming patterns, time spent on online gaming sites and the indicators of compulsive behaviour quickly and efficiently. Such data information can be used to identify early signs of a possible pathological gambling problem.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, it is possible, for example, to develop predictive models based on historical and behavioural data of gamblers, which can be used to identify people at risk of developing a gambling addiction before the situation becomes critical. AI can also analyse gaming patterns, detecting abnormal or compulsive behaviour that might indicate early-stage addiction, which is useful for initiating early interventions, such as counselling or psychological support, where necessary. AI can also be used to develop chatbots or virtual support systems accessible through mobile devices and computers that, in turn, offer continuous personalised support.
The use of virtual reality
Virtual reality (VR) can be used to simulate realistic gaming environments and thus test the risks and negative consequences associated with gambling without finding oneself in real situations. This innovative approach to prevention and therapy is also particularly effective in raising people’s awareness and educating them about gambling and its consequences for their lives.
Through immersive simulations, it is possible to explore the feelings and emotions associated with gambling in a controlled environment, safely experience the negative consequences and develop a greater awareness of the associated risks. Virtual reality programs can help an individual to better understand their own behaviour and to learn self-control strategies. VR can also be used as an integral part of cognitive-behavioural therapy, helping individuals to restructure their distorted thinking patterns related to gambling.
The integration of artificial intelligence and virtual reality in the prevention of pathological gambling addiction is therefore a promising step forward in the field of public health. These technologies offer a very high level of precision in identifying risk factors and adapting interventions, enhancing efforts to mitigate this complex challenge and improve the mental health of those affected.
By analysing the data and information gathered, it is possible to tailor prevention and treatment strategies to each individual, increasing the effectiveness of interventions and helping to reduce the risk of relapse.
In Italy, ULSS 6 Euganea has launched a trial combining artificial intelligence and virtual reality for the prevention of gambling addiction. The trial, conducted in collaboration with ETT, a SCAI Group company, involves the use of a technology platform that generates virtual gambling scenes, which can detect vulnerability signals, such as increased heart rate and sweating, and provide personalised feedback to subjects.
The platform uses a series of AI algorithms to analyse players’ behavioural data, such as the time spent playing, the amount spent and the type of game preferred. VR is used to simulate a realistic gaming environment in which subjects are exposed to strong stimuli.
Although still in its infancy, studies have shown that the platform is able to identify individuals who are vulnerable to pathological gambling with 90% accuracy, suggesting the possibility of using immersive and mixed technologies to develop more effective prevention tools for this form of addiction.