Currently I am still recovering from speaking at the Gender Issues in Gambling Conference at the strikingly beautiful Hohenheim University, Stuttgart. It was not that the conference itself was hard to endure; in fact it was thoroughly interesting, encouraging and inspiring to be in the company of other practitioners and scientific researchers who all more or less confirmed the findings of my own clinical practice regarding women and gambling. What I am recovering from is the exhausting journey itself, for which I have nobody else but myself to blame, as I managed to book the flight too late to choose a route other than from those which nobody else wanted; driving to Heathrow, a good two hours from where I live in Sussex by the sea, then a flight via Copenhagen where I waited another three long hours to get my connecting flight to Stuttgart. And, as soon as I touched down in Stuttgart, there and then began what for me is always the most anxiety provoking part of any journey… the absolute horror of finding the venue.
I must have spent so much money that I can ill afford and might be much better spent elsewhere other than on taxis, to take me to the very doorway of where I am supposed to be and all in order to avoid that horrible, hot, tension rising through me as I realise that yet again I am lost and likely to be late. Another reassuring thing about the Gender Issues in Gambling conference was that I had it confirmed that when it comes to directional sense –or sad lack of it- and the anxiety which it provokes I am not alone in the world of women. In fact this does seem to be a truly international phenomenon and as I disclosed my issue to members of my own gender at the pre conference dinner women from Austria, Germany, and Italy responded with empathy for what does indeed seem to be a very gender specific issue. And although no clinical researcher, I have done my own personal research in this area (hoping to prove I am not alone) and found that if I share my own inability to find anywhere I have not been several times before, women I have spoken with from China, Slovakia and Spain suffer similarly. I know of very few men who suffer – or will admit to suffering – quite the same fear factor when it comes to finding a new venue. Unless they suffer in silence and even then does it not raise the issues of gender difference? And that for men to reveal anxieties in the map reading department would be to reveal a very tender Achilles heel?
Anyway, just as we were at the conference to discuss, men and women are different. We know that. No matter how much we all aspire to equality, as indeed we should, as I put forward in my book ‘Women and Problem Gambling,’ being equal does not mean being the same.
At the Stuttgart conference this week, despite our different languages and cultures, and whether scientific researchers, psychologists or therapists, we were all speaking a common language, saying that men and women addicted to gambling use differing forms of gambling to each other, are seeking different feelings from their gambling experience and respond differently in treatment and so require different forms of help.
I write and speak often of the differences in male and female gambling addiction. Men are much more likely to become addicted to sports betting, horse racing and casino games and talk of a ‘rush’ or a ‘thrill’ from gambling lifting them out of their troubles. Some men enjoy their self esteem increased by being seen as successful if they win. Women are much more likely to tell me about addiction to slot machines, to gambling online and to being addicted to feeling numb when they play, to being in a bubble with everything that troubles them sealed safely outside. Win or lose, women are more likely to want to remain invisible when gambling. The similarity is that when it comes to gambling addiction both men and women end up feeling hopelessly lost in it.
Almost always whether man or woman they took the route to addictive gambling as a way of trying to feel better about a life they already felt they had long ago lost the map for. Whether taking the route of the high or being in a bubble, they were looking for a way out of their thoughts and feelings about a distressing reality. Divorce, grief, depression, abuse, anxiety, stress and trauma appeared in the Gender Issues in Gambling presentations as triggers to gambling addiction. The devastating consequences of addictive gambling addiction, as we know, lead to both men and women ending up feeling even more overwhelmed by anxiety, stress and depression. Finding the way back to health and living a life means finding good support networks, including counselling and therapy, to offer support and guidance and provide the map to the road to recovery.