Comment: Why gamblers can’t simply stop


OUR newest columnist is Stephen Gardiner, a recovering compulsive gambler with four years abstinence from gambling.

Stephen became addicted when he was about 21 years old and very quickly became perceived as a hopeless case.

He entered a rehab clinic aged 43 and exited a changed man. As a result of the help he received he now has a diploma in counselling and the experience and skills to help others recover.

He blogs for the Citizen as The Reformed Gambler.

THERE is a theory that gamblers could stop if they really wanted to!

An interesting theory when you consider the amount of damage that compulsive gamblers do, before they even consider whether it’s a problem or not.

My experiences as a compulsive gambler and in recovery have shown that even after failing businesses, broken marriages and several episodes of depression, a compulsive gambler will still look to pass the blame elsewhere.

There is a perfectly good reason why the gambler feels this way! And what could that reason be I hear you ask. He or she is delusional with insanity, an insanity which has come about as a result of a misguided belief, that after so many near misses, they will hit the big-time soon if they just keep trying.

Gambling is addictive; it creates an excitement within the brain that can only be replicated by another spin of the wheel, another pound in the slot or another trip to the betting shop.

Fun used to be a night out with the lads or dinner with the misses, romantic interludes, holidays abroad and happy days playing with the kids. Now all that is a distraction from the one thing the gambler believes to be his or her special treat, hobby or escape from the rigours of life.

We can not continue with theory he or she could stop if they wanted to, it’s just not that simple. If someone gamblers in this addictive way, if they continue when their lives are going to ruin through an addiction to gambling, then they are deserving of the same specialist support which we would give to an alcoholic or drug user.

Compulsive gambling is a cognitive impairment which hinders their ability to make sound judgments, they no longer have the ability to choose wisely and think rationally, at least not when their gambling is the issue.

Do we suggest that a person with an eating disorder should just eat normally and cure themselves? Of course we don’t, we might not understand why they refuse to eat, but we don’t force it down their throat as a remedy, do we?

We all recognise that eating disorders can be devastating, so we apply a sympathetic stance and seek professional help.

We ask ourselves why? When we know that smoking is harmful, why do we carry on regardless of the health risks, but we do! In thousands of cases we do until either we die or become seriously ill.

Yet we carry on simply believing a problem gambler can stop just because they should!

I believe it’s time for a better understanding of compulsive gambling, by talking about it in these terms, as an illness/cognitive impairment, we make it easier for individuals to admit they need help.

The alternative is to carry on as we are and send the same message which continues to fail and keeps the problem of compulsive gambling a secretive affair.

With societies current unsympathetic stance we create a stigma so deep that the compulsive gambler gets so entrenched in a sense of guilt and shame that it is near on impossible for them to rise above it.