[September 1970]

THE TRAGEDY OF COMPULSIVE GAMBLING

By    Dr Lyn Barrow

Compulsive gamblers are the best and worst of people, they come from all walks of life, and women are no less affected than men. The addict may be a person at the top of a profession, a builder's labourer, a housewife, or model. Age gives no protection, and even a superior I.Q. offers no defence against this form of compulsion.

The addict is not a single particular type, but any person at all who is dominated by an irresistible urge to gamble. Coupled with this there are usually certain obsessive ideas, one of which is the notion that one day he will be able to control his gambling.

This particular idea is perhaps the compulsive's greatest weakness and at the same time one of the most difficult concepts to counter. In fact, the two most dangerous phrases in the pathological gambler's whole vocabulary are: "One day I'll be able to beat this" and "I'll just make one more 'hit' and I'll get out".

The obvious reason is that money doesn't cure something that is basically a sickness, a personality disorder.

Taking a Rise out of the Church

JOHN Curran (1750-1847), a famous Protestant Irish orator, once was counsel for the defendant in a breach of promise suit: the defendant was a young Church of Ireland clergyman. Curran appealed to the Jury thus: 'Gentlemen, I entreat you not to ruin this young man by a vindictive verdict. For though he has talents and is in the Church, he may rise'.

On another occasion, an Irish peasant, a witness in a case of dispute over a horse deal, took a rise out of Curran who was determined to break down the credibility of the witness. The peasant's good humour, commonsense and equanimity protected him from the tangled net of tricky questions Curran kept flinging at him. Finally, Curran, in a towering rage, thundered at the smiling horse-handler: 'Sir, you are incorrigible! The truth is not to be got from you for it is not in you. I see the villain in your face.' 'Faith, yer honour,' replied the witness with utmost truth and honesty' 'my face must be moighty clane and shinin, indade, if it can reflect like that'. Curran lost the case.

Away from the machine or excitement of "play" the addicted gambler has strong feelings of guilt. Thoughts of suicide are commonly reported, and occasionally actual attempts take place. Almost all the compulsives I have talked with report having contemplated suicide as a way out at some stage.

The compulsive gambler is reluctant to seek assistance, especially professional help. Out of an estimated 30,000 gambling addicts in Sydney (most estimates are higher) I doubt if even 300 are getting help of any kind, personal, psychiatric, clinic, or in a therapeutic community like Gamblers Anonymous.

It is rarely that the pathological gambler will seek assistance before he has reached a sort of emotional "rock bottom", and this usually follows periods of acute depression, contemplated or attempted suicide, or criminal acts.

This is without doubt the toughest problem in the whole area - getting the gambler himself to seek help.

It is reasonable to assume that all compulsives (including alcoholics, drug-users, and others) have "vunerable" personalities and that these are capable of detection before the onset of the actual compulsion. Herein lies the most important area of research, that of early detection and prevention. Too much cannot be made of this.

One hears constant outcries about the current "drug epidemic", and I daresay some of these are justified. But surely the problem of the compulsive gambler is one of equal dimension in our community. Certainly larger amounts of money are wasted. Yet one rarely hears any comment.


From "ANNALS AUSTRALASIA"   March 1990

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