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Analysis of Gambling Addiction

Updated on October 21, 2020
Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen is a psychotherapist retired from private practice, specializing in human relationships.


To leap by chance is to lose one’s grasp of reality

At what point is the bon-vivant trapped by his pleasures? When does the social drinker sink into alcoholism, the gourmand expand into obesity, the lottery ticket buyer and bingo player deteriorate into compulsive gambling?

The process can be rapid or gradual. Despite intensive, continuing research, the sources of all addictions remain only partially understood. It has been ascertained that the same patterns permeate all addictions, encompassing gambling.

Like other addictions, there are predisposing characteristics: those with a parent/s or pivotal role model who gambled are more likely to develop this addiction than are those without such exposure.

The Quest To Gain A Lot For A Little

Why do we gamble? First, there is no more powerful word, universally, than the word “free”. Where things are not free, the temptation to gain a lot for a little proves enticing, at times, overwhelming.

Who of us has not bought a lottery ticket, revelling in dreams of vast wealth? Even when it is well-understood that, in casinos, the odds are stacked in favour of the house, there is still the potential, however slight, of investing a small amount at a gaming table, to walk away affluent.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, 1718 to 1792. An Avid Card Player


Pursuing The Obsession

Gambling has become so entrenched in society as to have developed into legend.

It has been said, that the word “sandwich” stems from John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich who, unwilling to halt his card game long enough to eat a meal, asked those employed by him to place something nourishing between two slices of bread, to enable him to pursue his obsession with the strength needed to continue.

Beating The Odds By Betting

In the past, geography has been a factor: those living near casinos have had greater opportunities than did those residing farther afield. The globalization of the internet has made it easy for anyone to engage in games of chance 24-7. Whether feeling lucky or not, the idea is awakened.

Once the addiction has taken hold, the compulsive gambler finds infinite avenues. Even at work or on family holidays, he will wager on whatever comes to hand: who might be absent from work the next day, results of sports events, or national/local elections. While winning is the ultimate goal, like the hunter, he soon finds delight in the joy of the chase.


The Adrenaline Rush

People who say they work best under pressure are often conceding, perhaps unconsciously, their addiction to the Adrenalin rush. Meeting a deadline by minutes provides a charge of that most exhilarating endorphin.

The tide of Adrenalin pulsing through every artery, vein and capillary is the wildest excitement we can obtain, without recourse to external stimuli such as nicotine, alcohol or mood-elevating drugs.

Some people deliberately create situations in which Adrenalin is forced to flow, by entering into the ultimate gamble, that between life and death. This is evidenced by dare-devils who endanger their lives through exploits which could easily end in demise.

Win or lose, the wager-made is sweeter than certainty

Taken To The Edge

Arguably, to risk one’s life is a right we possess. Still, this right cannot extend to the lives of others. More than one nurse has been convicted of murder by bringing patients to the edge of death, via injections, in order to resuscitate them at the last feasible second. Not surprisingly, their efforts have sometimes failed, resulting in the deaths of those who had trusted their lives to these care-givers.


Natural Responses

Originally, our endorphins evolved in order to help humankind to survive. Adrenalin, the fight-or flight response, was needed to spur our species to battle or run from hazards, in the form of human or animal foes, or climatic menaces. Our original brain-stem functions were: to fly from danger, fight to survive, eat and drink in order to live, and to copulate to perpetuate our species.

Synchronised Reward

Another endorphin, Dopamine, worked as our reward system, providing pleasurable sensations for performing the four brain-stem functions. Those endorphins remain at the core of the brain, despite our veneer of civilization, impelling us to strive, to achieve, to conquer.

At this stage in our evolutionary process, the rewards received might, to some, appear paltry, when measured against the forces of brain-stem drives. Perhaps, as humankind evolves, there will be more synchronicity between drives and rewards.

From Freedom To Enslavement

While exercise, achievement and success release endorphins, the effort involved requires sustained self-discipline. On the other hand, external substances in the form of mood-altering drugs, or activities such as gambling, are initially painless pathways to pleasure.

The anguish comes later, when addicts find themselves enslaved to those substances or activities which had at first provided freedom from the tedium of day-to-day drudgery.

Do not stake your heart upon the game, it might get broken

Remaining Hidden Until The Final Destruction

Compulsive gamblers are sometimes cross-addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, but gambling can prove more insidious than chemical dependencies. The reason for this is that the symptoms often remain concealed until it has decimated a life. They lack the odor of alcohol, as well as the overt behavioral changes produced by alcohol and drug abuse.

Thus, it can remain hidden until it has cost great financial sums, often obtained by theft or embezzlement, as well as the home, spouse, children, job-and most destructively, and self-respect. Despondent, the addict may then return to his one remaining pleasure and hope: gambling.


The Anaconda Waits To Squeeze Again

Thus this game of chance is similar to other addictions in that, once he has relinquished the habit, his commitment must be for the rest of his life. As has been shown with other addictions, he is never safe in assuming that, having once learned his soul-wrenching lesson, he can gamble for fun, with no chance of relapsing.

As is the case with substance abusers, he will find that the anaconda he had thought he had slain, had only feigned sleep, waiting to squeeze the life out of him, at the first sign of susceptibility. The addiction resumes at the point where the addict had halted it, progressing until he is wholly destroyed.

If there must be a dupe, let it be someone other than yourself

Feeding The Demon of Debt

What then is the probable future of the gaming industry? Economic forecasters predict that it will accelerate throughout the next several years. Exponentially, the number of people seeking counselling for debt related problems will grow, largely due to gambling.

As debt collection and/or criminal charges escalate, suicide is frequently viewed and implemented as the sole alternative. Medication and psycho-therapy have enjoyed limited success in helping these victims to combat this pathology.


Tempting Shapes

As Shakespeare warns us, “The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape”. The gambling marketing machine exploits the urge for excitement, status, prestige. Its propaganda is akin to that utilized in the days of cigarette advertising, focusing upon the athletic, and the glamorous.

To comprehend the incessant incentives to win by chance, we need only scan our spam, surf prime-time TV, or stroll into a local shop any day, to be inundated by the glut of alluring shapes, encouraging us to join the ranks of the gorgeous, the rich, the adored.

Despite this trend, there is hope for the future. As public concern and awareness increase, further funding is likely to become available; both to study the causes and develop enhanced treatment plans for this horrific addiction.


Don't trust the Joker; you might be his next prey

The Parlance of Gaming in Everyday Life

Linguistic usage

Words deployed in gambling have become inculcated into everyday speech. We offer here, by way of examples:

  • Put your cards on the table.
  • I’m ready to hand in my chips.
  • The deck was stacked against me.
  • I got a raw deal.
  • Once I knew the chips were down.
  • Was the game worth the gamble?
  • I’m willing to bet...
  • I would stake my life on...
  • An opponent upped the stakes...
  • The luck of the draw.
  • Hope is built on a house of cards.

Please help to build this list, add yours in the comments

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While public consciousness has enhanced understanding of the perils of gambling, the internet has created a force strong enough to overcome this endeavour. The internet ideal of freedom through Globalization contains the liberty to tempt those striving to recover from this addiction by bringing its source to hand via a few quick mouse clicks.

As one such player recounts, seconds after he has ended his access to one gambling website, he feels the immediate need to discover a fresh one-and so he does.

Thus, a gambler’s restructured life can be wrecked, his addiction, held in abeyance for months or years, can once again engulf him. This proves especially painful where one spouse hides an increasing absorbing debt from the other. In such cases, financial fear becomes magnified by a sense of deceit and betrayal.

Once this has occurred, even if a level of trust is restored, its roots will, in all probability, remain thin, damaged and fragile.

© 2014 Colleen Swan


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