I was listening to Alanis Morissette ‘Head Over Feet’ on You Tube last night. At the end of the song, which was a live performance version, Alanis shared how she wrote the song at a time when she first discovered that a healthy committed relationship was even more romantic, and as she put it ‘sexy’ than what until then she had mistakenly equated with love; the addictive manic highs and crashing lows of what are often unhealthy relationships. We can become addicted to the ‘wins’ and to ‘chasing our losses’, just as we do with certain types of gambling addiction. I do like a bit of Alanis Morissete, indeed ‘Hand In My Pocket’ I find quite inspiring and ‘You Oughta Know’ I imagine could help most of us feel that at least our Alanis might empathize with the madness we might feel during our most painful breakups. I refer to her in this instant however not to share my closet musical taste (or as you may be thinking, distinct lack of it) but because I was struck by her reference to the addictive quality of highs and lows.
Last week decided to provide a couple of occasions for me to reflect on the highs and lows which can also be the powerful drug of gambling addiction.On Wednesday I was honored and very excited to be the guest speaker at an online gambling company conference. I was speaking on my specialist area of women and gambling and of how for the majority of women who have a gambling addiction, they are addicted to the escapism offered by absorption in their gambling activity. That they are paying to play themselves into another numbing world, where for that time their absolute focus on the computer screen, or the slot machine, shields them from thoughts and feelings triggered by harsh real world situations, past or present. One gentleman in the audience challenged that surely it could not be just that simple? Surely, some people gamble for the high? Don’t they get addicted to the high and that is why they stake higher and higher, the greater the win, the bigger the high? And of course, he was right, I responded. More often, if I am to see the addiction to the high, I see it in the men I have met with over the years of my practice. The very next day, we saw this point illustrated as a leading story in the media.The link below is to to an example of the story, by ‘The Mirror’ newspaper; ‘Footballers Using PAYDAY LOANS To Fund Gambling Addiction’
The headlines were of course meant to shock us, that those who earn more than most of us might ever dare to dream of are reduced to such circumstances. My professional experience in gambling addiction has taught me to look for what lies beneath the surface issue of the money involved, and so I was not shocked by the sensational headlines that footballers who have a gambling addiction take out payday loans. Gambling addiction is very rarely triggered by a lack of money, or a need to win money. The desperation to win money is more frequently a consequence of the problem, of devastating losses and wildly spiraling debts. The trigger for addiction is always that gambling changes the way we feel in a way that leaves us craving more of it.Just as Alanis said of unhealthy relationships, we can then become conditioned to expect highs and lows, they can be so addictive. When gambling is unhealthy, money becomes merely a means to buy the high.
The experience craved from gambling by the stage it is addictive is then bought at all costs. For the professional footballer it is easy to imagine that much of life is lived on a high; the adrenalin and endorphin inducing match, the intensity of celebrity status, all transcending what might feel by comparison the mundane, the day to day grey plod of life. Gambling offers a way of maintaining the high, the bigger the bet, the bigger the risk, the bigger the high. The anticipation of the horse race, the sports match, keeping the adrenalin coursing through the veins, towards the exhilaration of a win. Afterwards, craving more of those addictive feelings because by comparison, anything else in life feels dull, lifeless, pointless. Gambling being what it is – a gamble- sooner or later, the losses, the low. The indescribable depression and feeling that the only thing that that will lift those miserably low feelings is another bet.
Chasing the win is chasing the winning feelings, the high. Chasing the win is running away from the depths of despair and depression felt at the absence of the high. It is avoiding withdrawal which feels every bit as agonizing as withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. That is why professional footballers, like anyone else who is caught in the destructive trap of gambling addiction, will gamble all the money they have and then beg or borrow. They are buying a high, they are running scared from the low. An escapism of a different kind to that of the women who numb their feelings with the slot machine, the computer screen, but escapism nonetheless, through being air lifted out of the real world by the high. That is what those payday loans are buying.