8 lies you tell yourself to justify not giving up gambling: and how to counteract them..#2.
#2. ‘ I will stop, I’m just gambling til’ I’ve recovered my losses...’
These are the words of many problem gamblers presenting in therapy. Many of whom have significant debts, and devastation has been caused to many areas of life as a result of gambling. Admittedly this ‘argument’ or rationalisation itself can be very convincing. There is a sincere acknowledgment that the gambling is no longer a desirable activity and that it does need to stop. Additionally, there is a sense of unease about debts that have been run during the process of chasing losses- and of course it’s not hard to see that this is not good. Most problem gamblers will also at this point intellectually be able to realise that if the gambling was responsible for running up the debt in the first place: there is indeed an overwhelming risk that further gambling, as a way to recover the debt, is not a great way to go forward. So, while there is a sincere intention of quitting the gambling, the belief here is about having ‘just that final bet’ that will enable them to quit with a clean slate. Everyone will be happy again. This is of course a huge risk to take and the trouble is that many gamblers don’t really mind taking that risk. If you are a gambler reading this – it is important to recognise what character features in yourself brought you to take such an interest in gambling to begin with. Not saying that it is always tied in with your personality – or that every gambler is a risk taker and impulsive, but there is little doubt that risk-takers and higher levels of impulsivity are over- represented amongst problem gamblers. Something that has been backed up by a lot of research. Even if you are neither impulsive, nor prone to take high risks; chances are that you have ‘numbed out’ to your fear of taking risks with money over time whilst putting bets on that are beyond what you can afford. What really happens is that you aim for a set goal for your gambling i.e. win back £4500 - but during your excitement of gambling and winning, or more likely the desperation of watching the money yet again go down.. you lose track of that goal. You are no longer working with a monetary goal; you are now working with an ‘emotional goal’. As you can imagine this will backfire 100% of the time. If you win; your excitement will keep you going. If you lose; your desperation and agitation will entice you to bet further. It literally is a trap!
Coming back to the reasoning behind the idea of using gambling to recover from gambling problems- if often goes something like this 'rather take that risk and might win than having a guarantee of long and boring payback plan...’ and/or ‘if I just concentrate better/focus on x stock/pick the 'right' machine it could work out and I might win’ This phenomena - called ‘illusion of control’ , in the clinical literature, is a fascinating and frequent occurance amongst problem gamblers, even if it certainly can exist in other walks of life as well. When relating to gambling, there tends to be an exaggerated sense of control over the chances of controlling the outcome of the game i.e, winning: particularly when there are strongly held beliefs of having ‘inside knowledge’, experience and ‘skill’ applicable to the game of choice. I have had many debates with my gamblers over the years about whether or not their skill makes any difference. Here is my take on the matter: there are certain ways of gambling that involves skill. Stock market trading is one example. There are others too, but even so gamblers frequently overestimate how often and to what degree skill plays a role. However, fixating on skill/no skill misses the point entirely. The part to pay attention to is whether or not you have CONTROL when gamble. Without coming down too hard on you- I suspect that if you are reading this; you have already identified that control has been lost, and I’m afraid to tell you that it will not be coming back. Yes. I know this is not what you would like to hear. I have been questioned and even criticised more times than I can count by angry clients telling me that their case is different. And I totally get it; I would not blame anybody for not taking my word for it and sometimes it is important, if not crucial, to experience things for oneself. It bears strong resemblance to the aftermaths of being dumped in a relationship. You kind of know that going back to your Ex that hurt you and broke your heart is not going to help you heal from the pain. But you just have to try a few times before you hopefully reach the pain threshold and decide that the comfort you are seeking won’t be coming from the very source of the pain. All you will ever get is a brief episode of hope, and a bit of a head-rush. In summary; rather than putting yourself through too many painful cycles of trying to recover losses through further gambling; I would instead YET AGAIN suggest that you go back to your track record of gambling that I mentioned in my #1. of this series if your track record includes any of the following
- A trend of suggesting problems ‘cashing out’ when you are on plus
- A trend suggesting an inability to stop putting bets on when you are on minus
- Coming back the next hour/day/week.. to continue gambling and STILL end up losing all that you had
…then it is high time to recognise that you have no control over your gambling.
The best way to stop it from hurting you further is to cut your losses and try your very best to move on.