Gambling Addiction: Why Women Risk it All

When women battling gambling addiction first approach treatment, they often find themselves baffled by and impatient with their own addictive behavior.

So, why should we be surprised that gambling addiction, despite its ever increasing media profile, is still beyond the understanding of most people not directly involved in its research, education and treatment?

Gambling is known as the hidden addiction and the most carefully hidden aspect of all, until recently, has been what we mistakenly see as the new phenomenon of women becoming addicted to gambling. The 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey suggested that there had been a rise in problematic women gambling from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of the U.K. population. And since, the media has grabbed onto the rise in gambling advertising aimed at women, claiming that online gambling has been the trigger for female problem gambling.


Half of the women callers to the U.K. problem gambling charity, GamCare, reported problems with Internet gambling in 2013.

Women were gambling problematically long before the advent of online gambling, carefully concealing what they felt was their shameful secret in slot machine arcades. Online gambling has made it much easier to gamble and much more difficult to detect a gambling problem. As long as her smart phone, the tablet, the computer screen is hidden, then so is her gambling.

Motivation

Problem gambling is about survival; the intention being to change a distressing psychological and emotional state through experiences gained from gambling.– Liz KarterWith gambling addiction in both men and women, if we peel back the layers starting with the shocking, but really only symptomatic, layer of devastating loss and spiralling debt, we would find that the underlying motivation for gambling is not the desire to win money. Neither is it an ignorance of the odds of a win, or a drive to self-destruction.

Problem gambling is about survival; the intention being to change a distressing psychological and emotional state through experiences gained from gambling. So, survival is the similarity across the genders. But, the differences lie in the unique paths men and women take to get there.

Excitement

Men coming forward for problem gambling treatment are much more likely than women to speak about the rush or excitement from the anticipation of a win. It’s also an excitement about the win to be gained from sports betting, the casino tables or the Fixed Odds Betting Tables (FOBT). This experience lifts a low mood, and men are able to leave problems far behind as the high helps to transcend a difficult or dull day-to-day reality. Men may even mention enjoying an audience and being recognized as a winner.

Escapism

Women approaching treatment for problem gambling might also speak of pursuing a win to lift a low mood, but they are more likely than men to choose modes of gambling that allow them to escape a troubling reality with absolute focus on the game. It is common for women to achieve a state of total absorption through staring at the slot machine or the computer screen until all feeling is numbed. Through this escapism, she achieves an almost disembodied, detached state.

This also makes it all too easy for women to detach from how much time and money is overspent, until hugely unaffordable amounts of both are wasted. We can all understand how much less appealing it would be to return to the ‘real world’ when she has now doubled the problems she originally sought to escape, with additional monetary debts and damaged relationships at home and in the office. Performing for an audience is something she rarely wants, and gambling on a slot machine or online is ideal for avoiding the limelight.

Performing for an audience is something she rarely wants, and gambling… online is ideal for avoiding the limelight.– Liz Karter

Relationship

Most often the cause of gambling addiction in women is directly linked to her relationships. These relationships either offer too much for her, or not enough. I treat women who have an excess of overwhelming responsibilities.


74 percent of women I have worked with since 2006 are single mothers from deprived backgrounds. Online gambling has leapt the social divide.

I also treat middle class women juggling their hectic career with mom duty. They feel stressed, anxious and guilty that they are not doing a good job with either. These women were unlikely to enter bingo halls or slot machine arcades – traditionally seen as working class venues – but can now easily and anonymously access online gambling between meetings or on the commute home.

I also meet the women who gamble because they lack supportive relationships, or they fear intimacy and commitment in relationships. No longer trusting in close relationships, these women experience the dull, relentless ache of isolation and loneliness. Whether the cause is too much or not enough, the consequence is the same; stressed, depressed and anxious, these women have turned to the escapism of gambling as a way of self-medicating.


85 percent of women I have worked with since 2006 have reported experiences of domestic violence or domestic abuse.

Why Gambling?

Women in treatment have answered that the greatest risk of gambling is not just a loss of money, but also a loss of her time and her sense of self.– Liz KarterGambling can seem like a healthier option for escaping a troubling reality, when compared to the dangers of alcohol and prescription pill abuse. A problem gambler’s intention has always been to cope with negative situations and to re-establish control of her life. And after all, she knows the odds, so what harm could a little gambling do?

Women in treatment have answered that the greatest risk of gambling is not just a loss of money, but also a loss of her time and her sense of self. Money issues can be resolved, but wasted time can never be regained. A vital part of treatment and long-term recovery is investing time in the re-discovery of her greatest loss – that of her sense of self.

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