How to Write a Compulsive Gambler
Everyone seen the movies with the super suave guy in the slick suit sitting at poker table, calmly going all in, or the Vegas ads where people go crazy when they somehow beat the house. However, it’s important to note that gambling can be a serious problem for people and lead to a lot of different problems. I don’t have any personal experience with compulsive gambling, nor do I know anyone with such a problem. All of this information was obtained through research.
An addiction is defined as a condition that is comes from engaging in an activity that is at first pleasurable, but eventually becomes compulsive and interferes with daily life and responsibilities. This means that what you’re doing, whatever it is, is causing your life to start going down the tubes. This doesn’t just mean physical addictions to alcohol or drugs or other substances, but also to activities like gambling, shopping or sex.
Any addict will go to great lengths to get their next fix. In the perspective of a gambler, this usually means enough money to gamble. A gambler, even if they are someone who saves kittens from a tree, will stoop to behaviors such as lying, cheating, or stealing in order to find the money to place a bet. This does not mean they are inherently a bad person, who is out to hurt people in order to feed their addiction. These are compulsions, where the mind is fixated on the next bet and those ideas can’t be shaken until they fulfill it, and even then it’s only for a little while, until the high dies down.
How They Might Act
A compulsive gambler is often ashamed of their problem (though not always). They feel guilty for the problems they may bring on to their friends and family because of their inability to control themselves. As such, they’ll try and hide how much money or time they spend gambling. This hs two sides. Part of it is that they don’t want to be judged or pitied for their gambling. On the other hand, gambling feels good, and a compulsive gambler might fear that if someone found about their activities, they will be forced into treatment. Compulsive gamblers feel like they have to lead a double life when it comes to loved ones.
One of the first signs of compulsive gambling, is having constant thoughts about it. Even while someone is not gambling, maybe they’re at work or school or at a family reunion, they’ll find themselves thinking about the subject. Maybe something as small as how many hours they might have to work in order to buy-in that weekend’s poker tournament, or whether they can afford to stay up late in order to make up some of their losses via online gambling. Generally, this can develop into someone using gambling as a way of ignoring their problems or feelings of depression/anxiety, that may have been brought on by their gambling. So instead of dwelling on the fact they completely forgot their anniversary and their significant other is nagging them about it, they’ll retreat into gambling as a way to boost their mood. Understandably, this is only digging them into an even deeper hole, that can eventually lead to things like losing their job or breaking up/divorce.
Obviously, one of the key things necessary to gamble is money, and lots of it. It starts off small, betting low bets, losing a little, winning a little, and building up confidence in their skill. Then this grows, with bigger losses that take a toll on a person’s wallet. Maybe the $30 they had saved up to buy their mother’s birthday gift gets used on a game of poker, thinking that they’ll double it and be able to get an even bigger gift. Eventually, they might need to borrow money from friends or family, a little bit at first, with all the promises to pay them back. Soon, this line of revenue will dry up after constantly being asked for money, and they need to resort to more drastic measures. This can be anything from stealing twenty bucks from their significant other’s wallet to committing burglary to armed robbery. Such serious crimes often become a last resort because a tolerance is built up after a while. At first, gambling $50 or $100 is enough to get that rush of adrenaline. However, as time wears on, that amount of money isn’t enough, and that number goes up until they are throwing down thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on one bet, which is generally beyond their means. Compulsive gamblers will often make a big win, and then take the money they won and bet it to chase all the losses they had up to that point. As is the nature of gambling, more often than not, they lose that money. If not, it becomes a cycle, until eventually, they do have a big loss.
This kind of behavior (hiding and lying), regardless of what is causing it, is going to cause strain on relationships and daily life. Most obviously, financial problems are a big deal for compulsive gamblers. If not stopped, they can lose their jobs, education, career opportunities, and even their life savings. Many compulsive gamblers, instead of becoming high-rollers, usually end up filing for bankruptcy. Along with financial problems, relationship problems can arise. A spouse, parents, siblings, close friends, anyone close who might be affected by this behavior may leave the gambler. Having a close relationship with someone who is constantly lying or hiding or perhaps even deceiving you can be difficult. For some, that behavior is enough to cause them to leave the gambler. Others may try to help, but there is usually a breaking point.
Kick a Person When They’re Down
Compulsive gambling can be the precursor to some other disorders. Depression and anxiety are most common, as they find themselves more in debt or with more people leaving them. This can create a vicious cycle in which they use gambling as a method of coping, and then it spurs on further destruction. This could also lead to alcohol or substance abuse, used as other ways of coping with the consequences of their gambling.
Who Is Affected
Compulsive gambling is most common in men, usually on the younger scale (mid-20s to early 30s). However, some women do develop gambling habits, usually caused by a mood or anxiety disorder, and these escalate at a faster rate than gambling habits in men. Having a family member with a gambling problem ups your chances, usually through a combination of genetics and learned behavior, as addiction can run in families. Also, just having certain types of personality traits can make you more likely to develop a habit, such as being impulsive or competitive, someone who is easily bored, or someone who constantly feels the need to be doing something.
Treatment for compulsive gambling is difficult, and relapse is always something that can happen. Usually, a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and support groups like Gamblers Anonymous produces the best results. With therapy, the client tries to break those habits of feeling like they absolutely have to place a bet. Any sort of negative thoughts that drive this compulsion are targeted and talked out with the therapist. Are they placing bets because they feel anxious about their future? Help them to think about a less destructive way of securing themselves a comfortable lifestyle. They track and identify the progression of thoughts that lead to them gambling, and attempt to show that while short-term benefits might be good (feel good, make small gains, etc.), in the long-term, this lifestyle can hurt themselves and others.
Relapse rates are rather high for any sort of addiction, and it’s no different for gambling. Those first days are going to be tough, the level depending on how long they’ve gone without treatment. A person will feel that itch to gamble, and in order to cover that up, they might lash out, be irritable, or restless. Usually treatment is forced onto them at first because compulsive gamblers don’t tend to feel like they have a problem, or that it’s so bad that they need help for it. They might resent whoever forced them to get help. However, with the help of therapy and support groups, the hope is that compulsive gamblers will eventually see that they were not helping anyone. That said, falling off the wagon is not uncommon. Most people will make several unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit before they are truly successful.
Some of the most important things to remember are that things aren’t magically going to get better. Like any addiction, it’s tough to kick, and it’s not entirely implausible for someone to struggle with it. Some days will be better than others, and others will make you want to pull your hair out because you just want that fix. It’ll be a bit of a rollercoaster in terms of emotions. Another tip for writing your character is to keep in mind what others might think of a gambling addiction. This is one of the main ideas running through a gambler’s head, and often why they go unnoticed for so long.
If you have any questions or comments, drop by my ask.