We addictionists divide addiction into substance addictions (alcohol and other mind altering drugs, food, even cigarettes) and process addictions (shopping, gambling, exercise, work, and sex). In and of themselves, none of these substances or processes is “bad”. The problem is the addict and what the addict does with the substance or process. The way an addict is affected by anything potentially mind altering is always different from the way a non-addict is affected. The problem is the addict, not the “drug of choice”.
Normal people, whoever they are, can use substances and processes appropriately without negative consequences. Addicts will abuse (ab-use) any of the above. Addicts may have a favorite substance or process, or several of each, but most addicts are willing and able to use, overuse, and abuse anything available. Many gambling addicts, for example, use alcohol, a little too much food, and regular gambling, all in the service of changing their feelings. At first none of these look like a problem. As the use, the disease (dis-ease, dis-comfort) continues, the blossoming addict covers more and more feelings with the drugs and processes. He may become a little overweight, not do other things he says he wants to do, not be “present” in his relationships, and spend more and more energy on his “hobby”, gambling, along with some drinking and perhaps smoking cigarettes.
Look harmless? Hmmm. Maybe not so much. The harm ranges from distancing himself from emotional presence in his own life and relationships, to obsession with finding ways to gamble more. As it becomes increasingly important, gambling eventually dominates his thoughts and feelings. If he stops gambling for a period of time, he may find that he drinks, smokes, and eats more, substituting those substances and temporarily using them instead of gambling to deal with his underlying discomfort.
Use of any of these are, for him, in the service of covering or changing feelings, providing a “high”, or dealing with emotional and spiritual pain and emptiness. After gambling for a while, the odds usually catch up with him and he looses money. In response, he does not stop gambling, but searches for ways to “do it differently”. He is like the alcoholic who changes types of alcohol…switches to beer and wine only, as he believes the vodka caused problems, failing to see that he, not the alcohol, and certainly not the type of alcohol, is the problem.
For the alcoholic, it is what he does with alcohol and what it does to him that is the problem. “Wherever he goes, there he is!”. Just switching drinks or bars will not help. Bummer! Obsession and compulsion, emptiness and pain, drive addiction. The gambler may change locations or types of gambling but will not stop in response to negative consequences. Compulsive gambling acquires increasing importance and becomes his primary relationship, pushing out much of the rest of his life.
If he decides to “control” his gambling addiction, (normal people don’t have to control their use of any substance or process, they can simply take it or leave it), the addict spends inordinate energy to not gamble on a given day, or after a certain number of hours at the casino or computer, or after a certain amount of money spent, or some other external control. Attempting to control an addiction never works for long. The frequency, intensity, and problems associated with gambling will always resurface, it is just a matter of when; or the addict will switch addictions and become a heavier smoker, heavier drinker, bigger over-eater, workaholic, all of the above or something else…it is just a matter of time. The addict will use any and all processes and substances to cover feelings, taking him away from being emotionally present and trying to fill a void that cannot be filled in this way.
The non-addict does not abuse or overuse and the substance or process does not take over his life. Repeat after me: “It is the addict, not the substance or process, that is the problem”.
Most addicts find that the foundation of a strong recovery is to fill the void with a relationship with a Higher Power; many call this power God. This relationship is free for the asking, the seeking, and the receiving. Try it…nothing to lose but your pain and addiction…and everything to gain, beginning with your self.
To recover, one must stop the addiction, feel the feelings, however painful, deal with them, then heal! It cannot be done alone. Get help!
If you want help for gambling, find a consultant or therapist familiar with recovery from addiction. Gamblers Anonymous is one of the 125 twelve step groups based on Alcoholics Anonymous, the “Gold Standard.” Locate the closest G.A. meeting or use an open meeting of A.A. or Narcotics Anonymous to begin the process of getting free from addiction.