“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run” Don Schlitz
…therein lays the problem…knowing.
One bet is too many, one hundred is never enough; the saga of the addicted.
By definition, gambling is the practice of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance or acting recklessly. When the practice becomes pattern and the pattern, habit, the consequence begins to undermine the stability of life as one knows it.
Gambling addiction is associated with victimization, criminalization, social and health problems, depression, anxiety, impulsivity, attention-deficit disorder, suicide and substance abuse, which is a close cousin to gambling addiction. Both disorders are characterized by: loss of control, cravings, preoccupation, efforts to cut back or stop, withdrawal, tolerance and a high risk of relapse.
There is an old proverb that says, “In a bet there is a fool and a thief;” makes perfect sense. If something is a sure thing then it’s not a gamble. If a wise many say, only bet on a sure thing, then a wise man never gamble. Yet, with any addiction, the wise mind is not engaged. Therefore, it stands to reason that a characteristic set of emotions that is married to pathological gamblers are guilt and shame. Guilt is the sense of, “I’ve done something bad.” Shame is the sense of, “I am bad.” Financial struggles, employment issues, family conflict and legal problems are direct byproducts of the gambling that subsequently leads to the guilt and shame that in turn, perpetuates the gambling. A gambling oversimplification: the ritual; soothing, the game; intoxicating, the eventual loss; demoralizing. Pathological Gambling is a disorder of lies, manipulations and secrets…has to be…it feels good in the moment but comes at a hefty price and affects a
whole bunch of people.
Here’s the struggle with contending with compulsive gambling, it’s stealthy; hidden.
It’s hard to spot; can’t test for it, can’t smell it, can’t taste it. With other disorders of impulsivity, compulsivity, one can more readily spot problem behavior but less-so with gambling. There are cues to look for, however, such as, betting verbiage, gambling
patterns, increased spending, decreased productivity, increased smoking, criminal activity and mood shifts.
So…what to do?
First, let’s take a look at the cycle of Compulsive Gambling (adapted from Nat’l Counsel
on Problem Gambling):
● Winning Phase –fantasy, excitement, increased betting
● Losing Phase – preoccupation, carelessness, lying, borrowing, anxiety
● Desperation Phase – increased betting, panic, remorse, illegal acts, isolation
● HOPELESSNESS PHASE – problems with the law, family, drugs, alcohol,
withdrawal, suicidal thoughts/attempts
● Critical Phase – treatment introduced, realistic decisions, hope vs. resistance
● Rebuilding Phase – continued treatment, reparations, amends , repayment
● Growth Phase – insight, second chances, rebirth
● Relapse Prevention – remaining abstinent, regaining financial stability
The most effective way to move through this cycle toward recovery is with treatment.
Akin to the substance abuser, the problem or compulsive gambler does well in a contained setting for a period of time, allowing for the distraction of familiar people,
places and things to be removed. Although research does not support one treatment modality to be more effective than another, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, along with Motivational Enhancement Therapy, have empirically been shown to be quite effective.
Because of the depth of the accompanying guilt and shame, a therapeutic team who conveys unconditional positive regard, empathy and a strong message of hope, is the team best able to build a strong rapport with their client.
What to do; where to go? While Gambling Disorder is a well-defined mental health disorder, there are few structured treatment programs equipped to manage the recovery
process. GA, or Gambler’s Anonymous, is a great first step and it is free. Mental Health counseling is also hugely beneficial, as it is important to identify the core issues of the compulsive behavior and addiction that protects the pain.
Be brave enough to start the conversation that will change the path. Whether it be for you or a loved one, be courageous enough to give the pain a voice.