As a psychotherapist, one of the issues that people come to see me for is help to overcome gambling addiction. I have considered how gambling addiction originates and develops within people. There are many definitions of addiction but there is a recognition that addiction has its origins within our genes; that biological factors such as neurological processes play a part. Alongside our genetics the origin of addiction may also be influenced by the nurturing from our upbringing, by environmental factors, by pharmacological factors, by our interpretation and response to life experiences, and by social interactions. These factors are by no means exhaustive.
Like all addictions, there can be significant / life changing consequences to gambling addiction. For most people, an occasional gambling experience can be fun. Here, in the UK, millions of people safely take part in the National Lottery while some may bet on The Grand National horse race. Where there is addiction, a person will not be seeking an ad-hoc fun experience; instead their desire to gamble may be fuelled by compulsion; a sense of need, often a sense of urgency and inconsiderate of consequence.
An addicted gambler may experience excitement, relief, authority and optimism that can feel euphoric; leading the addicted gambler into increased frequency of gambling events and can often see an addicted gambler start to increase the amount they spend on gambling activities. Psychologically, the addicted gambler may start convincing his/herself that a win is likely or probable and physiologically the addicted gambler may be fuelled by increased bouts of adrenaline rush.
Conversely, when losing, the addicted gambler continues with gambling activity, despite even a possible losing streak. He/she may be dishonest about losing, may be covert about financial losses, may start to accrue debt to cover the losses, may begin hiding their behaviour from those close to them and may develop a personality that facilitates these behaviours. The addicted gambler may find him/herself entering into internal conflict, at this stage; deluding him/herself about the likelihood of a next big win, blocking him/herself from recognising any sense of consequence or escalation.
This can lead an addicted gambler into a sense of desperation, in which the addicted gambler may feel like their situation is that of being backed into an increasingly tight corner; for they may find themselves in increased financial difficulty. They may seek unlawful ways to fund their gambling activities, their social or professional networks may become aware of either the gambling activities or the consequences of it. The addicted gambler may start to withdraw and relationships with friends, family and loved ones may visibly become impacted.
By this point, an addicted gambler may find themselves increasingly likely to develop mental health deterioration; lack of sleep, increased anxiety, confusion, delusional thoughts, irrational responses, denial, as well as worsening physical health that may come from both the increased stress but also from not looking after themselves well. At this stage, an addicted gambler may begin to feel distress at their deteriorating circumstances and may seek help. He/she may seek the support of a specialist gambling therapy service or the support of someone like me; a psychotherapist.
Upon reaching a point of helplessness, having already developed into a state of desperation, the addicted gambler may go on to feel that they have no control, that there is no way out, that they have no power to cease their addiction behaviour. They may feel emotionally damaged, wounded or distressed to a level that guilt and self-blame develop and they may have started to experience significant loss; broken relationships, loss of material possessions, loss of a job, loss of self-esteem and social standing, loss of their own moral code, loss of health and mental wellbeing and, significantly, loss of hope.
The loss of hope and dignity may further plunge an addicted gambler into despair, depression, anxiety and the addicted gambler may find him/herself turning their addiction behaviour to other addictions; such as drugs or alcohol, sex or other high risk behaviour. This spiral into chaos and despair can lead an addicted gambler to suicidal ideation or actual suicide attempts.
With far reaching implications for the addicted gambler and those close to him/her, the support of a psychotherapist can be a lifeline. I work as an ‘integrative’ therapist. This means that I have been trained in a variety of therapeutic models and disciplines; based upon a broad range of theories. This offers me the opportunity to draw upon the most appropriate skills and techniques. For example Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) and Gestalt therapy, to name but a few. This broad source of models and techniques can then be designed to be appropriate to the individual needs of the client.
(The above article was published by Counselling Directory website in 2016. What follows below is an addition I have made, since).
If you would like a creative exercise to try, just to use as a method of self-insight and exploration, try the following exercise, below. It helps to develop self-awareness and also to understand characteristics. This is important, for character traits and behaviours can be a sign to us. If we identify problem character traits or behaviours increasing in use, we might be able to intervene in our thought or behavioural processes.
Simply read through the above description of the progressive stages of gambling addiction. Draw a face mask that represents yourself at each stage of the progression into gambling addiction. What type of character are you, originally, and how does this compare, as a face mask, to the face mask you have created at the very end of the progression into gambling? What type of expressions are there on the masks, what type of colours? What do the characteristics of each mask reveal? If each mask was a real person and that person was in need of help and support, what would you do to help them? What feelings, thoughts and behaviours would go along with each mask? How would you help that person into better thoughts, feelings and behaviours?
Write down your answers and, when you can, reflect over them and try to put those helpful ideas into practice.
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2016. Update 2019.