Finally, compulsive gambling lacks public awareness and understanding as a disorder.
Generally speaking, our culture lacks a vocabulary for recognizing, understanding, and explaining compulsive gambling as a disorder like the vocabulary that has developed over the past fifty years for alcoholism.
According to Richard Rosenthal and Loreen Rugle, who have treated compulsive gamblers, when compulsive gamblers seek treatment, they offer a variety of explanations for their gambling.
Understanding these explanations is crucial for developing a treatment plan. Compulsive gamblers need and desire spectacular success as a way of demonstrating their worth and gaining approval from others.
Anger and rebellion are other explanations they offer. When they are angry at someone, they gamble to punish the other person, with the expectation that the person will be humiliated when the gambler wins.
Part of the attraction of gambling is also that it is a way of expressing rebellious, anti-authority feelings.
Gambling is a way of gaining freedom from dependence on others. Some compulsive gamblers believe that if they could win enough to quit their job or get a divorce, they would no longer be subject to the whims of others.
Rosenthal and Rugle argue that compulsive gamblers often confuse potential financial independence with emotional independence from others.
Compulsive gamblers gamble in order to gain social acceptance. Many of them report feeling good when they get ‘perks’ when gambling in casinos.
They also enjoy a sense of kinship with other gamblers, bookies, and casino or track personnel because it makes them feel included and a part of something.
Gambling is also a way of escaping from painful or intolerable feelings. Rosenthal and Rugle describe this as a kind of ‘self-medication’, where gambling may function as an anti-depressant or to prolong and intensify the manic phase of bipolar (manic/depressive) disorder.
A final explanation for gambling has to do with competitiveness. Rosenthal and Rugle point out that compulsive gamblers are highly competitive.
Often as a result of trying to impress and please parents, competitiveness develops into a trait expressed in many situations. For some, gambling becomes a competitive activity in which losing is unacceptable or even unthinkable, and the potential for ‘chasing losses’ becomes enormous.
However, treatment involves changing compulsive gamblers’ lifestyle— helping them develop new interests, activities, and ways of thinking and behaving.
Since many compulsive gamblers use gambling as a way of escaping from problems encountered in their lives, they need to acquire new problem solving skills.
No single ‘one size fits all’ treatment exists for compulsive gambling. Treatment strategies are based on a variety of individual and group therapies and participation in gamblers Anonymous.