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Follow Your Bliss

By: Ashley Dane

Follow Your Bliss is the blog of Ashley Webb Dane, a mother of two teenagers who has been in recovery for five years. She is committed to carrying the message of the spiritual aspect of recovery and the empowerment of women in recovery. She is a certified hypnotherapist, and is currently Director of Communications at ONE80CENTER, a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Beverly Hills.

The House Always Wins (Gambling Addiction is a Losing Prospect)

(not rated)

Aug 04, 2012

I was listening to a podcast the other day from The Moth. It was a rather comical story, told by one of the five card-counting college kids who dominated Las Vegas in the 90s. (They even made a movie about it). He was talking about trying to assimilate into life after that wild winning streak — trying to write a book, to be a productive member of society. He was having a hard time with it. kept trying to place bets, online gambling, smaller casinos and lost a lot of money. All of it, in fact. He got to a point where he was about to pawn his grandfather’s gold watch for $600 to live on for a couple more weeks while he tried to write the book that he wasn’t actually writing. And he wouldn’t have lived on it, you must already know — he would have tried to turn that $600 into more money and lost that, too.

Now, I’m not a gambler, but I completely understand this logic. It’s really the same diseased thinking process, where we continue to believe in this absolute fabrication, and to live like it’s true in spite of all evidence to the contrary. He continued to chase the high, just like drug addicts and alcoholics. He went to Twelve Step meetings for gamblers, and said that he found himself sitting there with all the “losers” that surrounded him when he was winning, all the people who gave him hateful look as he won over and over again. The ones he mocked in his mind, the “suckers” he scorned and ridiculed as he left with his winnings. Now he was one of them, and he could hardly bear it. He was a loser, and the only way to not be a loser is to win. Thus he kept trying to win until there was nothing left.

I’ve always said that I don’t understand the gambling mentality, or gambling addiction, because I have not ever gambled in the true sense of the word. When I went to Las Vegas, I was there to outdo Hunter S. Thompson, and was never sober enough to learn how to gamble, or patient enough to lose if I did. I was always looking for something to tear up, and that something was always in the mirror egging me on. However, that is a gamble too, isn’t it? A reckless roll of the dice, throwing myself into the world without any concern for consequence, with my ability to discern danger or threat seriously impaired?  Driving under the influence? Going home with a stranger?  How often did we gamble like that?

The gambling mind is compelled in the same way, driven by the dark force of the ego. I have been witness to people not understanding gambling addiction, not treating it in the same way as one would a drug addict. But gamblers go through a very serious gambling detox. They are entirely consumed with restless anxiety. Their brains are missing the rush of chemicals that comes from gambling; it is the kind of rush that makes everything seem possible, within reach and golden, just one bet away.

It is a known fact that we contain in our bodies the original form of every drug that has been created. Otherwise, there would be no cell receptor sites for which they are the perfect fit, like a key in a door. We are born with those cell receptor sites, hence, there is something the body produces that is similar to the drugs people put into their bodies. That is why the behavior/ process addictions are so insidious — they actually do cause a high, and there is the inevitable crash, and the need to do the behavior again to produce the euphoria that the natural drugs in our bodies cause when they flood the brain. The “winner” feelings of gambling are not just from gambling, then. So when a person tries to stop gambling, they seek that high elsewhere, in other behaviors.

This happens with people new in recovery from substance abuse — they tend to act out from sheer lack of knowing what else to do. But the difference is sometimes subtle, clarifying nonetheless. For a process addiction, the addict gets high from the behavior. Many drug addicts don’t made this association — they get high from bottles, needles, straws, pipes, pills — but a behavior for them isn’t seen as a means of getting high. Drug and alcohol addicts are not usually hardwired into behaviors so much as substances.

That is exactly why it is so subtly detrimental. The behaviors are often socially acceptable (love? shopping?) or can take on a civilized form (day trading?). Most people around an addict of this type aren’t even aware of it. They know how to keep it looking presentable. For instance, in day trading, which is a perfectly legitimate way to make money, there is a definite faction of people who should steer clear of it. Many of those people are now suffering from their addiction; from their inability to stop. Many families have lost their homes and savings to this behavior. They don’t know they are addicted, in most cases, and often no one else does either, so no intervention can be staged until the damage is done and everyone is standing in the wreckage, shocked that they didn’t see it coming.

I had always wondered about people going to rehab for these addictions until talking to a friend who is actually in residential treatment now for gambling, and hearing about people I know who lost all their savings to day trading at 65 and having to go back to work when most people are retiring, on his feet all day, with barely two pennies to rub together. I don’t wonder any more. These folks really do need 24/7 support and supervision. They are as incapable of stopping as an alcoholic in a bar, when the things that make them high are EVERYWHERE.

The phone to make the call, the computer to place the bet, the car drives itself to the casino … or with love addicts or eating disorders — these are not just people who lack self will, who have poor impulse control. They are addicts, through and through. But they have to identify, they have to recognize they have a problem, they have to seek help the same as any other person and sometimes that requires a family member or close friend or spouse to bring it to their attention before it’s too late.

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