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What is Gambling Addiction Continued

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Impulsivity is the inclination to act upon sudden urges or desires without considering potential consequences. Sometimes people describe impulsivity as living in the present moment without regard to the future. Impulsivity is evident in the early stages of addiction. During this phase, people impulsively act on powerful urges to experience the thrill of gambling. The future consequences of those activities are not considered. Anxiety is not associated with the urges during these early stages.

As gambling addiction progresses, a shift begins to occur. At this point, the compulsive aspect of addiction takes hold. Compulsivity is a behavior that an individual feels driven to perform to relieve anxiety. Once a person performs the compulsive behavior, the anxiety goes away and comfort is restored. When this shift occurs, people are no longer gambling for pleasure alone. The compulsions compel them to gamble to relieve anxious, uncomfortable feelings. Compulsions may arise at the mere thought of anything that might interfere with the addiction. For example, suppose a man goes to the racetrack every day during his lunch hour. However, one day an office meeting runs over into his lunch hour. This might cause him to miss a certain race that he felt certain he could win. He may become irritable and anxious because his job is interfering with his addiction. At this later compulsive stage of addiction, "pleasure" comes in the form of relief from these anxious, uncomfortable feelings. Thus, despite the negative consequences of gambling, the addictive behavior continues in a compulsive manner.

For many people, gambling can be a fun and harmless form of entertainment. Therefore, it is sensible to wonder when this activity crosses the line from harmless entertainment, to addiction. Because addiction is defined by continued involvement despite substantial harm, it is useful to review these harmful consequences of gambling addiction. This list may help someone recognize if s/he may be developing a gambling addiction:

a) Emotional costs of gambling addiction: living with daily feelings of fear; anger; sadness; shame; guilt; paranoia ;loss of pleasure; boredom; emotional instability; self-loathing (disgust with oneself); loneliness and isolation; and feelings worthlessness.

b) Social costs of gambling addiction: disruption or damage to important relationships; decreased ability or interest in forming meaningful connections with others; and limiting one's social sphere to other unhealthy, addicted persons.

c) Physical and health costs of gambling addiction: poor general health; poor personal hygiene; lowered energy and endurance; diminished enjoyment of healthy activities; poor sleep.

d) Intellectual costs of gambling addiction: loss of creative pursuits; decreased ability to solve problems; and poor memory.

e) Work and productivity costs of gambling addiction: decreased productivity in all aspects of life; missing important deadlines; and, failing to meet obligations.

f) Financial costs of gambling addiction: money lost due to gambling; money spent dealing with the consequences of gambling (healthcare costs, legal costs, etc.).

g) Legal costs of gambling addiction: This includes the legal costs because of what someone did while engaging in their addiction; e.g., paying a defense attorney because of crimes committed such as forgery, theft, or embezzlement.  It also includes the things someone did not do; getting evicted for failure to pay rent.

h) Lost time due to gambling addiction: Time is a limited resource. Time spent while pursuing addiction is no longer available to spend in meaningful, life-enriching activities. Meaningful, life-enriching activities are of two basic types: 1) love - time spent in relationships with others, and 2) work - time spent being productive including employment, learning, working on personal projects, volunteering, and helping others.

i) Diminished personal integrity due to gambling addiction: Most people have a strong sense of morality. This includes: 1) a sense of what is right and wrong; 2) what one ought to do (and not do); 3) how others should be treated; and, 4) a sense of responsibility to one's family, community, employer, and to society as a whole. However, a tiny percentage of people (roughly 1%) seem to be missing this sense of morality. Such people are often termed sociopathic, psychopathic, or antisocially disordered. Although the terms are not identical, they are similar enough for our purposes. This sociopathic 1% of the population will commonly develop addictions. Unfortunately, if someone in the other 99% of the population develops an addiction they will begin to behave in a manner similar to sociopaths. As their addiction progresses, they begin to lose their morality.

As addicted people gradually lose their moral compass, they begin to disrespect the rights and needs of other people. They even mistreat the people that matter to them most. This initially begins by failing to meet certain responsibilities, commitments, or obligations. Examples of these failures might be, failing to show up for things; becoming dishonest by failing to disclose information (dishonesty by omission); or making excuses rather than making a sincere apology. As addiction progresses, this type of disregard will evolve into more obvious forms of disrespect and mistreatment. This progression might include flat-out lying and deception; stealing from loved ones; and, threatening these same people if they do not meet the addicted person's demands. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, people who once had a moral compass experience tremendous feelings of guilt and self-loathing as they break their own moral code. Addiction can only relieve these feelings temporarily.

j) A life that is absent of meaning and purpose due to gambling addiction: This cost is perhaps the ultimate one. For some, this loss takes the form of experiencing a separation and estrangement from God. It might be a feeling that one has disappointed God by not fulfilling God's higher purpose. For others, it means living a life without meaning or purpose. This meaning and purpose is ordinarily derived from two sources. First, our loving involvement with other people enriches our life. Second, we derive a sense of purpose from productive activities (work, learning, achievement, contribution to others, etc.) In either case, addicted persons have traded away these essential ingredients to life satisfaction for the sake of pursuing momentary pleasures. Momentary relief eventually gives way to further suffering.


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