Someone who gambles may do it with friends; they know what they’re going to bet — say £10 — and even if they win £50 they will not go back to try and win more money. Very importantly, they will see it as luck and they won’t think they can influence the outcome. It’s random. They treat it purely as entertainment.
The problem gambler has an impulse control disorder and they see gambling in many different ways and they think they have a set of skills. For example with roulette they may think it has been on black five times and so the sixth time it’s bound to be red. What excites them is the thrill of the chase — “am I going to win or not?” — not the actual money.
With a slot machine they may have superstitions — they may think it a “hot” machine or a “cold” machine. They may bring Granny’s jumper with them or wear their favourite football shirt — and think this will have an influence. If they are playing the game “21” they may think that their luck is about to change. They have been at the table for two hours and they are “due” a win at this stage.
The problem gambler will not have any control over how much they are going to spend. If they start with the modest figure of £20 it doesn’t matter if they win or lose it — they are going to gamble more. They chase their losses and do not see gambling as gambling, they see it as an investment and whether they have stolen the money, earned it or borrowed it they believe they are going to recoup that investment.
It may be that the gambler’s husband, wife or friend have no idea what was going on. With chemicals or alcohol it becomes very evident that someone has been using but with problem gambling there’s nothing to point to it, except perhaps some signs of depression or euphoria. But the receptors in the brain when someone is gambling are very similar to what one gets from a cocaine high.
With a problem gambler their work is going to suffer and arguments are going to start within the family. Families don’t always see it as an addiction. They see it as somebody who is weak willed, somebody who has lost their way and seems to be out of control. They generally don’t know that they can get help — the problem gambler just needs to stop.
The family can, perhaps unknowingly, enable the gambler by paying off their debts but this doesn’t help the gambler at all. The gambler will promise not to do it again and, inevitably, once they have the funds, are back to their game of choice.
It is very important for a gambler when they come into treatment that they do something along the lines of a financial inventory. They need to go back to how much they gambled, if they have stolen, where they got the money from, what they won, what they lost and what are the debts.
It would be very unusual for a gambler to come into treatment with no debts. There needs to be a payment plan put into place that is not the family repaying the debts. They need to face up to it and be honest about their addiction.
Watch Alexandria Barley’s full interview on gambling therapy and problem gambling below:
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 28, 2020