Obsessive Gambling

Most people gamble for the fun of it—they view going to the casino or buying a few lottery tickets as a form of entertainment on par with going to the movies or out to dinner. Most people set a spending limit on how much they want to gamble and are happy to quit gambling when they reach that spending limit. Some people who have a healthy view of gambling occasionally go over their spending limit, but even then, they have a limit on how much they are willing to go over their limit. As a result, most people never have a significant problem with an occasional night out gambling.

The individual who is obsessed with gambling is different. Like the person gambling for fun, the person obsessed with gambling usually sets an initial spending limit but more often than not, goes over that limit, frequently to his or her extreme detriment.

The person obsessed with gambling often becomes overly fond of the adrenaline rush he or she feels with a big win, in whatever form that might take. The flashing lights and the bells inside the casino signal “fun,” and the promise of easy money provokes feelings of doing something “forbidden” and then getting away with it.

Getting caught up in the presumed thrill of taking the gamble, the person obsessed with gambling oftentimes gets caught up in making impulsive, expensive decisions that cost more money than the spending limit allows. Losing a sense of perspective and beginning to feel desperate, compulsive gamblers often spend far more money while on a losing streak than ever intended, oftentimes reasoning, “I’ve lost so much money, I now have to keep on gambling to win it back.” Obsessive gamblers who set an initial spending limit of $50 or $100 often leave the casino having lost five or ten times that amount of money.

After one more big loss, the person obsessed with gambling typically engages in extreme self-condemnation and vows never to gamble again. This resolve usually dissolves the next time the temptation to gamble comes up again, and the cycle of “forbidden fun” starts over. Impulsive overspending, very large financial losses, and extreme feelings of guilt and self-condemnation comprise the circle of self-defeat meant by the label “obsessive gambling.”

Therapy for obsessive gambling usually involves the individual coming to terms with his or her daily financial frustrations and then coming up with realistic spending plans meant to overcome chronic debt and lead to a level of financial satisfaction. Oftentimes other areas of the individual’s life have to be addressed, such as career, marital, and relational issues. Frequently, issues around alcohol or substance abuse coexist with obsessive gambling. Lastly, healthy ways of having fun and excitement in one’s life apart from gambling usually need to be explored. Most often, obsessive gamblers need to completely abstain from all forms of gambling, at least until the underlying issues driving the obsession with making “easy money” are resolved. 

When you observe a student who you suspect is involved with obsessive gambling: