Gambling, like drinking alcohol, is largely a harmless indulgence for most adults. The thrill of betting and winning holds a real appeal for many people. Most just head out for a day of chance, win or lose, and leave it at that. But for some people, gambling becomes a preoccupation to the point that it impacts their lives on the order of a real addiction. What is the psychology behind this addiction?
One of the most significant flaws in thinking that contributes to compulsive gambling is something called the “Gambler’s Fallacy.” This is when we believe the outcome of a chance event can be predicted past on past events. If I flip a coin nine times and it comes up heads each time, there is still a fifty/fifty chance that it will be tails the tenth time. The gambler’s fallacy leads one to anticipate heads even though the odds are factually against this likelihood.
Once an individual begins thinking with the gambler’s fallacy, they are led to begin making seriously flawed decisions. For example, even after losing money for an extended period of time, the gambling addict, or compulsive gambler, will become convinced that they are due to win simply because they have lost. This kind of thinking does not square with reality and becomes extremely destructive.
Further flaws in thought lead gambling addicts to make their decisions to bet money based simply on the fact that someone else has won. Simply put, the psychological process of compulsive gambling compels someone to see only the winning example rather than the vast number of losses which attend any chance event. The compulsive gambler is only able to recognize the winner of a lottery. They will not acknowledge the countless losses that attend the same lottery. Those of us who gamble for fun can see the vast odds against winning and make decisions accordingly. The gambling addict does not.
To complicate all of this, gambling will eventually afford almost anyone a win. This partially reinforces the other flaws in thought for the gambling addict. Even after losing nearly everything they have, a short-term gain reinforces the belief that they are due for a big win and that they are the exception to the odds. Thus the cycle of chasing the prize begins anew and the fallacies of thought are confirmed.
Since these modes of thinking are inherently flawed the losses will inevitably pile up. Gambling addicts will then feel the need to recoup the losses. Loss chasing becomes the final psychological trap that fuels gambling addiction. Since the process of losing has put an individual at a disadvantage, they see no option but to continue gambling in order to repair the damage. The problem becomes the solution, and this is a signal feature of addiction. Just as an alcoholic will drink to drive away the suffering of alcoholism, the gambling addict will gamble in order to repair the damage from gambling. The cycle is complete.
Gambling is a real addiction. And it can be treated. This is the good news. Since gambling addiction follows so many of the same psychological patterns as other addiction, the treatments are in place to recover from this problem.
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