Gambling and Addiction
Risk-taking behavior is an inherent part of any serious addict. Against all odds, they will continuously tempt fate in the pursuit of their next fix. Many abusers of substances lose money, relationships, their health or their lives as they struggle to maintain a lifestyle that is physically, spiritually and emotionally crippling. These traits can also be seen in compulsive gamblers, who even have their own meetings that are akin to AA, called Gamblers Anonymous. Why is it so easy for these individuals to let logic take the back seat while they throw long-term thinking to the wind? In both gambling and substance addiction, the pursuit of a state which is usually unobtainable and always fleeting will become the main focus of that person until they have exhausted all resources and are left broken, often with severe financial and spiritual debt.
Casinos and drug dealers are very similar entities when viewed from the perspective of the addict. They are both highly manipulative, relying on their customer to submit to their baser, more primal needs over long-term goals. They both flaunt the romanticized lifestyle associated with their trade. Casinos are massive, shiny testaments to excess and hedonism, while many drug dealers are quick to buy the cars, clothes and accessories associated with the luxurious and lucrative drug lifestyle that is popularized in modern rap music. They both are in the business of inaccurately portraying an unsustainable and potentially damaging way of life in a positive light.
Unfortunately, both substances and gambling are tolerated as ever-present vices that are accepted by our society in much nuanced and culturally subjective ways. Alcohol and to a lesser extent, marijuana have become socially acceptable to the point of widespread availability as social tonics. Casinos frequently utilize free alcohol as a judgement inhibitor. A drunk person has poor judgement, and poor judgement means more money for the house.
Casinos make money because of statistics. Someone may get lucky and win big, but that is just a battle. Casinos are in business to win the war. Short-term gratification is an obsession of many addicts, and they are often too concerned with the immediate future to meditate even briefly on how the odds are stacked against them in the long-term. This is in-part due to the Monte Carlo fallacy, or more commonly known as the Gambler’s Fallacy.
The Gambler’s Fallacy is the mistaken belief that if something happens more frequently at the present moment that means it will happen less frequently in the future (and vice versa). It is a pretty common belief among those who gamble, who picture the world of chance as an even bell curve on a graph. In reality, every event is independent, and any past events that have occurred have no authority over any that will happen in the future. A good example of this is how the Monte Carlo fallacy got its name, which was in the Monte Carlo casino in 1913. During a regular roulette game, the ball fell on black 26 times in a row. While it is an extremely unlikely occurrence, it is no less likely than the 67,108,863 different combinations that could have resulted. Gamblers lost millions of francs betting against black, on the mistaken belief that a streak of red was bound to happen.
These mistaken beliefs, along with the idea of having a “hot streak” or a “hot hand” can keep Ludo maniacs (or those who are addicted to gambling) to continue gambling long after they have lost a significant portion of their money. The “high” that the gambler experiences isn’t even the win, but the event leading up to the decision. Whether it’s good or bad, the pleasure and reward centers of their brain are firing as a response to the uncertainty of an event that they are financially connected to, and similar to many drug users, the pursuit of the high doesn’t stop until they are out of money.
Gambling addicts, like substance addicts, are also more likely to have mood, anxiety or personality disorders, which only adds to the initial instability caused by their impulsive behavior. They have a higher propensity for divorce, suicide and criminal behavior, which often can overlap each other. They also have a higher propensity for substance addiction, an issue that can exacerbate pre-existing financial issues. In short, these problems compounded can make life utterly unmanageable for a gambling addict, who can find themselves in financial trouble, legal trouble or both.
Decades ago, gambling addiction was not as difficult to overcome. Unless the person lived in Vegas, they would often have to go out of their way in order to initiate a gambling spree, whether that meant visiting the bookie or driving up to a casino, these relapses would need to be much more premeditated than say, an alcoholic who lives a stone’s throw away from a liquor store. With the technological advances of the modern age however, internet gambling has become widespread and highly available. A gambling addict needs to engage in significant recovery and habit reprogramming in order to find healthier alternative ways to cope with their desire to roll the dice.
Thankfully, the support community of Gamblers Anonymous has only gotten larger, with meetings available in most major cities. Finding a community where they can feel like they are part of something bigger is one of the biggest tools in maintaining abstinence from gambling. A home group of Gamblers Anonymous can keep each other away from the seductive neon glow of the casino lights with a system of group accountability; and those who have been down the roads of financial distress that gambling leads can help those new to the program, who may be struggling to simply have a place to sleep. Together, a community of their peers can help a chronic gambler live a happy and fulfilled life that doesn’t involve losing any fingers to bookies or losing their home to the bank.