Gambling addiction is a recognized psychiatric disorder and as such falls into the same category as other dependencies such as drug and alcohol abuse disorders which are similarly defined as psychiatric disorders. What makes gambling addiction similar to these other dependencies is that it is easily disguised by the prevailing social mores of contemporary society in which a certain level of alcohol and even drug consumption is acceptable and even encouraged so that its pathological dimensions are easily camouflaged. Gambling in contemporary society is similarly encouraged.
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As with drug and alcohol addiction, gambling addiction is finally recognized by family and friends only after considerable irreparable harm has been done. The addiction was an addiction long before it is finally recognized as such. Of course, even after family and friends have finally identified the problem, as in other addictions, the gambling addict himself or herself remains in stubborn denial.
With drug addiction and alcoholism, a period of chemical detoxification must precede the actual rehabilitation program. A common error often made in those disorders is to consider “detox” as the treatment as if “getting the poison out of the system,” is enough. With gambling addiction, we are one step ahead in the gambling treatment program since there is no specific offending agent to rid the body of. However, in this case, the offending agent is even more evasive and dangerous because there is no specific poison to combat. Instead, the offending agent is the gambler himself. There is no chemical detox necessary for his gambling treatment. The detox must instead more clearly partake of a spiritual and psychological wash-out that can only come about through a lengthy period of rehabilitation, better described as spiritual “rehabitation.”
Simply put, gambling treatment recognizes that the fundamental fantasy and illusion that gambling provides the addict is the illusion of omnipotence. This omnipotence serves as a psychological defense against otherwise intolerable and traumatic feelings of helplessness, depression, guilt, and shame. The defense is weak and ultimately indefensible. The inevitable punishing crash only serves as a necessary self-inflicted component in a vicious repetitive cycle of wins and losses.
Simply put, spiritual “rehabitation” means replacing the terrifying absence and void in the addict’s life with meaningfulness. The Gamblers Anonymous definition of spirituality includes: “those characteristics of the human mind that represent the highest and finest qualities such as kindness, generosity, honesty, and humility.” In contrast to omnipotent fantasy that otherwise guides the gambling addict’s interpersonal behavior, these qualities demand the kind of relationship with other people that is mutually respectful, minus grandiose manipulation and control. This kind of spiritual “rehabitation” can best be achieved in a 12-step residential community.