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Trick, or Treat? Self-Deceptions and Revelations of Disordered Gamblers

Every October 31st, countless kids dress up as their favorite heroes and monsters to go trick-or-treating. Practically everyone can conjure fond memories of their own Halloween exploits. Often, somewhere in the process of donning a costume, a certain catharsis takes place. By imitating people and characters we idolize, we feel that we come a little closer to the ideals they represent. As villains and horrors, we might feel stronger – or even scarier.

This pageantry, for better or worse, somewhat mirrors our own inner lives. After decades of providing resources to disordered gamblers and their loved ones, we have gained an intimate familiarity with the psychology of such disordered behaviors.

Take, for example, someone struggling with sports betting in Atlantic City. That individual may lie to the people close to them in an attempt to mask their inability to address the problem. The disordered gambler may even become so successful at this that they manage to deceive themselves. Their behavior can then snowball out of control as they refuse to acknowledge its severity.

However, these mental faculties can also save us. During our annual conference last month, Dr. Alyssa Wilson taught us the power of mindfulness. Through certain techniques designed to change our thought patterns, we have the ability to alter our behaviors. This change does not occur overnight. With consistent practice, however, comes positive transformation.

The Myths We Tell Ourselves

People in general still possess misconceptions about disordered gambling. Some may think that disordered gamblers just need to apply some willpower. Others might think that their disordered gambling is not problematic because they can afford it.

In the moment, disordered gamblers may tell themselves many things to justify their actions or avoid feeling shame. Just one more, I’ll win the next game. These misguided ideas all miss the truth. Willpower cannot usually conquer problem behaviors alone; people need treatment and support. Financial loss is not the only negative consequence of disordered gambling. Most obviously, the disordered gamblers fail to recognize their rationalizations as excuses.

Education and Intention

Education unmasks the mysterious specter of disordered behavior. Demystifying disordered gambling allows us to recognize it in our loved ones and reduce the shame and pain involved in the process of recovery. Disordered gamblers can use mindfulness (as just one of many effective recovery tactics) to notice the triggers that cause their problem behaviors. By staying in the moment, they become able to envision alternate decisions. With practice and support, disordered gamblers can effect lasting change.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey offers help to anyone struggling with disordered gambling. Call our 24/7 hotline, 1-800-GAMBLER, or explore our online resources for support, treatment, and hope.