Concept of the Month -- November 2005

"Compulsive" Gambling: Mental Disorder or Irresponsibile Choices?

A man leaves his office telling his supervisor he must attend to a family matter. In reality, he spends the afternoon at the race track. This is not the first time. At every opportunity, he plays games of chance -- purchasing lottery tickets, betting on outcomes of sports events, wagering at cards, and indulging in internet gambling schemes. Gradually, gambling becomes a primary focus of his waking hours. Increasingly, he lies regarding his activites and about disappearing sums of money.

His behavior might seem indicative of an obsessive-compulsive disorder that is spiraling out of control with potential to jeopardize his family, his employment and ruin his future.

Whether this behavior truly constitutes a mental illness bears close scrutiny. Many people gamble occasionally as a form of entertainment. It injects a bit of excitement into their lives. They know the odds are against them and are willing to take a small risk. Their gambling goes no further. They have no need to deceive others, and no damage is done. Contrast this with the person who seeks greater and greater excitement, perpetually expecting a large return for very little or no effort.

Criminal thinking processes are operative in the individual who makes such choices. These include:

When held accountable, the so-called "compulsive" gambler may claim he has become "addicted." This means that he has immersed himself so deeply that quitting is hard to do. Yet, just as poeple struggle to give up many bad habits once these habits have cost them dearly, the "addicted" gambler can do the same. Some require help while others do it by their own persistent effort.

Every time a wager is made, it involves the exercise of choice. It may take a calamity to motivate him, but the frequent gambler can make a series of choices to abstain and live a responsible life.

Stanton E. Samenow

Return to Dr. Samenow's Homepage