Machines, Medication, Modulation: Circuits Of Dependency And Self-Care In Las Vegas
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- Schüll, N.D. Cult Med Psychiatry (2006) 30: 223. doi:10.1007/s11013-006-9018-y
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The intensive entertainment infrastructure of Las Vegas is overlaid with a robust therapeutic network for those who become addicted to its technologies. Although the objectives of gambling machines and addiction therapeutics are seemingly at odds—the first work to encourage play, the second to stop it—both gear their interventions around a model of the self as a continuum of behavioral potentials that can be externally modulated. For compulsive gamblers implicated in this circuit of modulation, pharmaceutical drugs that have been prescribed to dampen cravings for machine play sometimes function as intensifiers of its effects. Caught in an intractable play between technologies of harm and technologies of care, recovering gambling addicts are challenged to assemble a technical array through which they can maintain balance; health itself, for these individuals, becomes a state of managed dependency. This essay explores the shifting terms and changing stakes of subjectivity and health in the contemporary United States by way of ethnographic research on compulsive gamblers who live and work in Las Vegas. The analysis draws on interviews with gamblers as well as on observations in local self-help groups, directed group therapy sessions, and chat rooms of Internet recovery Web sites.