Research Piece from College – Some Thoughts
Is Knowing why we gambled important?
“We are all addicts. Even if we don’t become hooked on alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs, we rely on different things to avoid pain and cling to pleasure. The wish to feel good and avoid emotional pain is very natural and deeply rooted” (Peltz, L., 2013, p.ix)
In his book Overcoming Gambling, Mawer (2010) states that “research into problem gambling is still in its early stages” (p.18). He adds that there is limited information available on why people gamble and, in particular, why some people become compulsive gamblers. Today, there is a marked increase in literature available on the subject and more research is being carried out trying to make sense of this baffling and insidious condition. There are conflicting views among authors and theorists on how problem gambling should be defined and treated. Some, class gambling as an illness, while others categorise it as an impulse control disorder resulting from imbalances in brain chemistry. However, the classical belief is that gambling is a coping mechanism used by some to deal with or escape from their problems or life issues.
Lefever (2014) poses the question “how do we get inside the madness of behaviour that is obviously self-destructive? If we can’t understand it, we can’t treat it” (p.14). The exploration of underlying issues in addictive behaviour can lead to an awareness and understanding into the driving force behind the addiction. Lefever also states that “the final stimulus required for the development of full-blown addiction is the exposure to mood-altering substances or processes that “work” for the individual in producing a mood-altering effect that transiently fills the sense of inner emptiness” (p.39). Therefore, it may be argued that if a client presenting with a gambling addiction or indeed any addiction explore what these feelings of inner emptiness are, or where they stem from, it may help them in their treatment and recovery.
In Gamblers Anonymous and other fellowships, it is the firm belief that addiction is an incurable disease, progressive in nature that can only be arrested by working the twelve step program of recovery. It is also the belief that it is something that is out of the control of the person affected, and is a condition for life. However, Thompson (2013) surmises that “addiction is characterised by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response”. (p.41). This would suggests that recovery is in the person’s control and possible if the root of the problem or issue can be unearthed, accepted and dealt with.
Chris Prentiss is a co-founder of Passages Addiction Cure Centre in Malibu, California. In the opening statement of his book ‘The Alcoholism & Addiction Cure’, Prentiss (2010) makes the claim that “within the covers of this book, I will show you how you can cure your alcoholism or addiction”. He goes on to postulate that the “statement is based on the results we achieve at Passages. At Passages, we assist people every day to cure themselves. We don’t cure them- we assist them to cure themselves” (p.1). His premise to this statement is that he believes that addicts are “not incurably diseased”. They have “merely become dependent on substances or addictive behaviour to cope with underlying conditions” (p.15).
Prentiss (2010) accentuates that there are four causes of dependency:
Cause 1: Chemical Imbalance
Cause 2: Unresolved events from the past
Cause 3: Beliefs you hold that are inconsistent with what is true
Cause 4: Inability to cope with current situations
Prentiss (2010) also makes the point that people become addicted to substances or behaviours because of their addictive qualities, but after a while away from the substance or from the addictive behaviour the withdrawal symptoms disappear along with the physical dependency. Therefore, something else (one of the four causes) has to be present for the person to want or need to continue the addictive behaviour or re-enter the addictive cycle.
He states that “we can easily break those dependencies once we cure whichever of the four causes listed above is underlying the addiction” (p146).
Following on from this it can be argued that attending G.A. meetings or completing a residential treatment programme can break the addictive cycle and ease the physical need or craving to gamble. However, working with underlying issues may help the client to rediscover themselves thus leading to sustained recovery.
This is a point backed up by Blaszczynski (1998) when he states that “clinical research has consistently revealed that up to 75 per cent of compulsive gamblers suffer from symptoms of major depression” (p.42). He also expounds that “some clinicians suggest that depression is one of the driving forces leading people to gamble compulsively in the first place” (p.42). In these particular cases, if the depression can be treated and understood by the client by engaging with counselling or treatment, then it could be argued that they might gain a greater awareness of why they gambled compulsively in the first instance.
It can also be disputed that gambling and other addictions are coping mechanisms. Virginia Satir once famously said that “Problems are not the problems; coping is the problem” (BrainyQuotes.com). Custer & Milt (1985) also sum this up beautifully when they write that
“People who escape from problem situations by indulging in gambling say, in thinking back, that they knew it wasn’t going to solve the problem. But what they were looking for there and then was relief and escape, not solutions. One gambler explained: ‘When you’re suffering with a splitting headache or agonizing toothache, what do you think of? Long term medical, psychiatric or dental treatment? No. All you want, desperately, is to get rid of that pain right away, this minute. You look for the simplest, quickest way to get relief, and if that’s what gambling does for you when you’re facing a tough, painful problem, naturally, you plunge into gambling” (p.29).
This point is backed up more recently by Carr (2013) when he writes that “Just as gamblers believe they get pleasure from gambling, they also believe it provides some sort of crutch. This is because they tend to turn to gambling at times of stress and regard it as a relief” (p.157).
In Gamblers Anonymous, the focus seems to be on accepting that addiction is a life long illness that can never be cured. The compulsive gambler must accept this affliction and fight it on a day to day basis by attending meetings and working the 12 step programme. Nakken (1996) suggests that “the addict does not focus on the Self but perpetuates the fight between the Self and the Addict within. The two are always in conflict, struggling for supremacy, with the addict invariably winning out” (p.65). Nakken (1996) adds that recovery from addiction is found in the renewal of the self. Forming a new accepting caring relationship with the self and then eventually forming meaningful relationship with others is the key to a sustained, happy and addiction free life. The best way to reconnect with ourselves is by understanding and taking responsibility for our lives.
Dodes (2011) states that “addictions are emotional symptoms, they should be treated together with everything else troubling a person. Understanding what makes a patient depressed will help him understand why he has developed an addiction, and understanding his addiction will help explain why he is depressed”. He continues by questioning “Why, then, do people so often divide addiction from general psychological treatment?” (p.208).
This research piece hopes to challenge the statement written in the G.A. handbook that none of the G.A. members who were interviewed found that having knowledge of why they gambled to be of value to them when stopping gambling. This statement is not backed up with research and may be misleading to some members. A lot of literature written on the subject would seem to suggest that addressing underlying issues can be of benefit in the treatment of this addiction.