GAMBLING

There are two general types of gambling, the social type and the compulsive type. Social gambling is the kind ordinary individuals occasionally engage in for excitement, social intercourse, and possible financial gain. Some people also derive intellectual satisfaction from attempting to figure the odds or from devising or testing a “system.” Social gamblers may find themselves trapped by the thrill of the game and risk more than they can afford— but in general they can “take it or leave it.”Compulsive gamblers, on the other hand, are driven by an irresistible impulse that dominates and often disrupts their lives. Even though they know the odds are against them, they must continue gambling—regardless of their losses and the effects on their family, social, and occupational life. Frequently they will squander their entire savings, borrow heavily, and resort to illegal means for obtaining money, always convinced that their luck is bound to change.The number of compulsive gamblers in the United States alone has been estimated at six million, and their annual losses are said to run to twenty billion dollars a year. If the estimated number is anywhere near correct, compulsive gambling represents one of the most widespread psychological disturbances in this country. A gambler of this type is rarely a neurotic, since he is not torn by internal conflicts or crippled by anxiety. Instead, he “acts out” his impulses without sufficient regard to consequences. His disturbance is classified by the American Psychiatric Association (1952) as a character or personality disorder in which a single symptom is predominant (a “special symptom reaction”).There has been a limited amount of research on this disorder, but enough to indicate the outstanding personality traits of the compulsive gambler. He tends to be a rebellious and immature individual who dislikes rules, regulations, and responsibilities. His behavior is usually unconventional, and ethical standards of any kind mean little to him. On the surface he appears sociable and engaging, but he seldom forms deep attachments and frequently uses others for his own purposes. If his acquaintances refuse to advance him money, he either becomes resentful or simply crosses them off his list and tries others. He thoroughly rationalizes his gambling activities as a form of business venture, and justifies himself by pointing to the one or two times when he made a big killing in a single evening. Even when he loses, the act of gambling itself seems to bring him intense satisfaction, since he is a person who lives on the stimulants of risk, excitement, action, and a constantly changing situation.The compulsive gambler has many unrealistic attitudes and illogical beliefs that are extremely resistant to change. He is convinced that his efforts will make him rich and that he will never have to stoop to working for a living. He believes that there is always a loophole in the odds, and that he will be able to take advantage of it. He is prone to “magical thinking,” the belief in signs and omens that point toward winning, or the feeling that he can control the dice or cards with his own thoughts. He takes seriously the old fallacy that after many losses one is bound to have not only a winning streak but a big one. Frequently he borrows money from his friends or embezzles funds from businesses on the basis of his irrational beliefs. See MAGICAL THINKING. Little is known about the dynamics of gambling, but there are many theories. Some investigators believe that compulsive gamblers are “passive-dependent” personalities who have been encouraged in childhood to be helpless and indecisive, and to cling to others for support. As grown men, they cannot face the problems of holding a job, and depend upon Lady Luck for support. Others believe they are basically obsessive-compulsive individuals who feel comfortable and secure only when they are repeating the same thoughts and actions. On this theory, gambling becomes a psychological ritual. They are also classed by some writers as psychopaths who are so egocentric, rebellious, and hostile that they have no regard for other people, including their own families. See PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSONALITY, OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE REACTION, REPETITION-COMPULSION, ANTISOCIAL REACTION.Many psychoanalysts, however, have a totally different point of view. They believe that compulsive gamblers are masochistic individuals who have an unconscious desire to lose instead of win. They are driven by an urge to punish themselves for guilty behavior or guilty impulses stemming from childhood. Since they are unaware of the source of their drive, they continue to appease their sense of guilt not only by losing their money and social position, but by alienating their friends and dragging their families down with them. See MASOCHISM.Psychoanalysis and other forms of psychotherapy have been used in treating compulsive gamblers, and some success has been achieved in helping them gain insight into themselves and adopt more constructive and mature behavior. But too few cases have been treated to permit any general evaluation of results. The organization “Gamblers Anonymous,” modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, has helped a number of gamblers to control their impulse. Through group discussions they share experiences and attain greater understanding of their irrational behavior and its consequences. They also give each other emotional support when they are having trouble controlling their urge to gamble.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "GAMBLING," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/gambling/ (accessed November 28, 2020).
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