A new client came to see me recently to discuss his problem gambling and, during the consultation, he remarked, quite matter of fact, that he had spent the last 17 years attending a Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.) meeting every week. Every single week for the best part of two decades. He also informed me that he had made his last bet at some point in July 2000. I asked him that, if he hadn’t gambled in 17 years, why was he seeing me to address his compulsive gambling? His reply, depressingly, was ‘Once a gambler always a gambler’.
This kind of conversation between gamblers and myself is not uncommon.
I frequently see gamblers in my practices and I hear from many of them that, despite the fact that they haven’t gambled for a considerable amount of time, they still class themselves as having an addiction or compulsion. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the fact that they have been gamble-free for sometimes decades) they still resolutely believe that they are addicted.
Simply put, it is because this is what they are being drip fed. On a weekly basis, their local gamblers meetings are supplying them with the same messages.
- You have an illness
- You will never be cured
- You are powerless
- You need the assistance of a ‘higher being’ to succeed
These tenets are the backbone of the principles that the G.A. promote and it provides a number of leaflets and pamphlets to spread this message. One of these leaflets, The 12 Steps of Unity, is designed to brief the reader about the importance of unity within the group. All of this appears at first glance to be a valuable ideal; to find strength in the unity of the group. However upon further reading the reality is a little more sinister; in the title of Step One of this booklet (the title not even the passage!) is the sentence, ‘Personal recovery depends on group unity’. All of a sudden the message of group unity is less of a method of support and more of a requirement, suggesting that you MUST use the group in order to succeed and that without it you will fail. As I suspect that the state of a gambler, when he first attends G.A. and reads this, is quite vulnerable and open to suggestions, it is surely nothing more than grooming to promote to this gambler that they cannot do this themselves, they must rely on others, that they have to subscribe to the notion that they are powerless to help themselves. So, the FIRST thing that a compulsive gambler reads is that they must acknowledge that they alone cannot help themselves.
At best, this kind of unsubstantiated message is misleading. At worst it is a cruel, disempowering method of conditioning that suggests that the reader surrender all control over their own habits, behaviours and lives; to surrender responsibility for not only their own actions but also their overcoming of it. (Mirowsky and Ross, 1990)
Alongside this, the G.A. advertises the idea that ‘compulsive gambling is an illness, progressive in its nature, which can never be cured’. To suggest to a compulsive gambler that, no matter how long they stay ‘on the wagon’ and refrain from gambling, they will never overcome their compulsion is a cruel suggestion. To insist that they will have to fight an exhausting daily battle for the remainder of their lives is tantamount to a lifetime of psychological abuse. (Gale, Batty & Deary 1970)
And, simply put, it is just not true.
When a person stops smoking we don’t label them still a smoker. When someone overweight loses the excess kilos they aren’t still classed obese. When someone beats their depression they aren’t conditioned into thinking that they will always be depressed and have to ward it off. So why is G.A. instilling the belief in its members that, despite successful weeks, months, years and even decades away from gambling, they must still class themselves as compulsive gamblers? How disempowering must it feel?
Let’s challenge and change this…
I want people to understand that once you have gained control over your own behaviour or habits, once you have managed, through your own hard work and effort, to establish control over your own thoughts and emotions, once you have proved to yourself that you no longer need the thrill of the bet you are free. It is immeasurably more empowering to give someone the tools with which to change their lives rather than to subject them to the notion that they will never have the capability to be free of it.
Rather than teach someone how to ‘fire-fight’ every day for the rest of their lives isn’t it far more liberating, empowering and responsible to teach them how not to start those fires in the first place?
I quit smoking roughly 12 years ago. It wasn’t an easy process but neither was it the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I put in effort, gained some understanding and insight into my own thoughts and beliefs and stopped smoking. I don’t now, over a decade later ‘battle’ with my desire to smoke on a daily basis. I don’t ever even think about smoking or want a cigarette. Why? Because I’m a non-smoker. I used to be a smoker but now that I’m not, it doesn’t even register. It’s not a daily struggle, it’s not a relentless fight. It’s something I never give even a moment’s thought to.
And the same is true of gambling.
You are NOT ill. You are NOT addicted. You CAN overcome your gambling habit. With a few sessions of learning, a lot of insight and a healthy dose of effort you can very quickly be a non-gambler, someone who doesn’t even think about it. You don’t need a ‘God’ or a ‘Higher Being’ to do it for you. You can do it for yourself. Now THAT’S empowering. (Atrens 2000)
If you are one of those gamblers who finds value in the G.A. and its teachings and wants to go to weekly meetings for the rest of your days, that’s absolutely fine with me. It’s no skin off my nose for you to tackle your problems any way you wish. If however the faith-based tenets of G.A. and its 12 steps programme don’t sit well with you, you may be interested to know that there’s an option that deals with it VERY differently.
I have helped many gamblers learn how to beat their habits by guiding them through The Thrive Programme®. Teaching you to understand how your thoughts, beliefs and emotions shape your behaviour. Once you understand these psychological components (and others) you will have the insight to be able to make decisive, positive and permanent changes.
You may be interested to know that the client that I had that conversation with at the start of this blog is now thriving. He still hasn’t gambled, but more importantly, he doesn’t even think about it anymore. No obsessing about gambling, no exhausting daily strategies to avoid gambling, no weekly meetings, no reliance on others for his success. He’s just getting on with his life and not giving it another thought. Just like the rest of us.
For more info see my website HERE
by Simon Mason ATPC
01296 583789 / 07789 600199
Control or Defense? Depression and the Sense of Control over Good and Bad Outcomes. John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross (Mar 1990)
Drug Addiction as Demonic Possession. Dale Atrens. Reader in Psychobiology (2000)
Locus of Control at Age 10 Years and Health Outcomes and Behaviors at Age 30 Years. Catherine Gale PHD, G David Batty PHD & Ian J Deary PHD. (1970)