(It’s Not About the Money)
A True Story about an industrial factory worker who had an addiction to betting on horses at the race track, and prior to my meeting with him regarding another issue he had received treatment for his addiction and had not placed a bet for several years. Shortly after meeting him he called my office in a panic to report that during lunch time at work he had gone through the cafeteria line and took a sandwich without paying for it. He was immediately released from work and upon request came to my office.
Together we explored what he was experiencing when standing in the cafeteria line and the impulse to steal a sandwich, even though he had money to pay for it. What became immediately clear was that the feeling of saving a couple of dollars did not comprise the impulse to steal; rather it was the thrill of the risk, the same “rush” of emotion he would get when placing a bet on a horse. Occasionally, a wealthy suburban housewife will get caught shop- lifting, and the question often asked is why she would risk stealing inexpensive goods when she has more than enough money to pay for them? Again, it is not about the goods but the thrill of getting away with a theft, as it is the thrill of betting against many odds when placing a bet on a horse. Fortunately, when this man’s reason for attempting to steal a sandwich was explained to his manager, he was retained as an employee.
There are millions of stories about people who keep gambling and losing, and when they win money they keep gambling until they lose all they won. To the on-looker it is insanity, risking the welfare of their families, their reputation, even their opportunity for employment. If it were purely for the money they would never continue the cycle of betting and losing, over and over. There is a difference between the compulsive gambler I am talking about and the vocational gambler who studies the art of gambling, is always calculating his bets, and limits the amount he will lose for one sitting at a poker table. I once observed a blackjack player at a table in Vegas who was such a gambler, noticing how he would bet only a portion of his earnings so that he would never risk losing proceeds from “good runs.”
When talking to the above described vocational gambler after the house observers shut down his table because he was making too much money, he admitted that there were times when he would lose thousands of dollars from yielding to the thrill of placing bets, but never in amounts that would put his family in jeopardy.
Research is demonstrating conclusively that what appears to be an addiction to a substance (alcohol, opiates, money, food, porn) is actually not to the substance itself but to how one experiences the substance. In other words, addiction is experience dependent, not substance dependent, and the experience whether it be mood altering as from drugs, feeling of fullness as from eating, or an adrenaline rush as from gambling the feeling of the moment is “the hook,” not the particular substance.
In conclusion, the vast majority of people who continue indulging in a drug, or a behavior that consistently causes harm to themselves and family, do so because that drug or activity brings relief, or distraction, from what is internally painful (most always trauma induced), or from unresolved conflict in a current life situation.
We of Trauma & Addiction Services are specifically trained to treat anyone with such issues.
Charles Gerlach, Ph.D.
State of Ohio