Feature article – Gamblers who ‘stay in action’

Some compulsive gamblers are said to have abstinence but not sobriety. They are considered at risk for relapse. "Staying in action" is a term that can describe the non-gambling gambler who may have underlying desires not consistent with serenity.

The Staying in action syndrome may include:

  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • irritability,
  • anger;
  • grandiosity,
  • pomposity,
  • an inflated ego;
  • an inability to delay gratification,
  • impatience and impulsivity;
  • self-pity;
  • being a workaholic,
  • other compulsive behaviors,
  • tunnel vision,
  • a lack of balance;
  • intolerance,
  • rigidity,
  • being overly judgmental;
  • nostalgia toward or romanticizing of one’s drinking or drug use; and
  • emotional constriction,
  • lack of spontaneity,
  • failure to enjoy life.

Staying In Action may include many of the above symptoms and be acted out in several ways. Some of the more common are;

  • Covert gambling; Covert gamblers typically gamble with time and with the meeting of obligations and responsibilities. Nothing is too small or too big to bet on. They will drive without gas in the car, be late for appointments, or not pay their phone bill. Betting they can get away with it, their self-esteem depends on the outcome.
  • Mind bets; Compulsive gamblers may stop wagering for money, but may continue making "mind bets." They may be preoccupied with various counting rituals, for example, odd versus even license plate numbers, or how many times a telephone will ring. If they guess right, they win.
  • Switching and fusing of addictions; Such as sexual compulsion, alcoholism, drug addiction, over eating, internet addiction & etc.
  • Procrastination; Many gamblers feel that nothing they do is good enough, or that they can never do enough. Hence there is a sense of futility about completing a project or assignment where they anticipate failure. They may fear or resent the unrealistic expectations of others.
  • Risk-taking; This includes activities involving speed and danger. For example, take flying lessons, try sky diving, buy a motorcycle, and go skiing every possible weekend.
  • Playing catch-up; Their gambling typically has left them in debt; once they stop they find themselves "playing catch-up." They may be working multiple jobs, juggling bills, struggling to meet expenses and stay ahead of creditors. Their state of mind often duplicates that of their gambling days. Money is experienced as the solution to problems.
  • Power games; The gambler is frequently testing how their therapist or intimates and colleagues will respond, and trying to corrupt them or get them to collude with the patient’s dishonesty. This is an attempt to devalue people, so as to sabotage treatment and confirm their cynical view of the world. "See, everyone is greedy; people steal if they think they can get away with it." This is a common way to deny their own culpability.
  • Flooding; Most commonly the gambler becomes overwhelmed with guilt as he or she remembers things that were done, people that were hurt, episodes of lying, time wasted and cheating. A common refrain is "I can’t believe I did that." Flooding may also refer to the uncontrollable crying. Gamblers may be flooded with tears as they get in touch with painful feelings that had been suppressed. This may involve the sudden remembrance of painful and traumatic memories of childhood—physical or sexual abuse, extreme neglect, disturbed parents.
  • Boredom; Without their identity as a gambler, they do not know who they are. Giving up gambling leaves a large vacuum or hole in their lives. They have no other interests, and there are few activities that can compete with the excitement of gambling.
  • Intimacy; There are usually problems with intimacy that precede the gambling, in which case they will be there after the individual has stopped. Pathological gamblers often have difficulty being open and vulnerable and depending upon others in a meaningful way. They have learned to suppress their feelings and to detach from potentially painful situations.
  • Success; A closely related problem has to do with difficulties handling success. It may be blown out of proportion.
  • Reality testing; A favorite New Yorker cartoon shows two intellectual types in deep conversation at a cocktail party. One man is saying to the other: "My feeling is that while we should have the deepest respect for reality, we should not let it control our lives."
  • Exceptional person; The gambler may want to see himself as an exception—exceptional among people, and an exception to the rules. Not wanting to be pinned down, he is looking for "an edge," or for loopholes. This search for "freedom" is often what gets him into trouble.

These and other thinking and acting ways of ‘staying in action’ can be addressed with counseling and by joining Gamblers Anonymous.

Source; Richard J. Rosenthal, Staying in action The pathological gambler’s equivalent of the dry drunk. Journal of Gambling Issues March 2005.

The Problem, the Pain and the Path to Recovery

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