Compulsive gambling can have far-reaching psychological, physiological, social and financial consequences. This blog explores three ways of understanding different types of gamblers for anyone who is concerned about their own, or a loved one’s, unhealthy gambling habits.
The Pathways Model of Problem Gambling
The classic way of understanding problematic gambling is using the “Pathways Model” devised by Blaszczynski and Nower, 2002. This model integrates biological, personality, developmental, cognitive, learning theory and environmental factors. It divides gamblers into three subtypes and has been validated by others, including Milosevic and Ledgerwood, 2010. Clinicians have used the Pathway Model to develop individualized treatments for compulsive gambling behavior and any associated risk factors that may impact recovery. The three subtypes (or pathways) are outlined below:
Behaviorally conditioned gamblers
This type of gambler normally starts gambling for social or entertainment reasons. However, they continue to gamble due to:
- behavioral conditioning – they associate gambling with positive emotions or to escape negative feelings
- false beliefs associated with the probability of winning, and/or
- poor decision making rather than impaired control.
These gamblers tend to have the least severe gambling problems of the three subtypes but can suffer from depression and anxiety, often in response to their financial difficulties. They usually respond well to treatment.
Emotionally vulnerable gamblers
People on this pathway tend to have pre-existing emotional problems that make them more likely to suffer from gambling issues. Emotional vulnerabilities can include anxiety, depression, negative life experiences, family history of gambling, and poor coping or problem-solving skills. As a result of these factors, this subtype is more likely to gamble to escape their emotions. Therefore it is important that treatment addresses the underlying emotional issues that motivated them to gamble in the first place.
Antisocial impulsivist gamblers
Antisocial impulsivist gamblers have certain biological and/or psychological characteristics that can make them more likely to develop gambling issues, including:
- antisocial personality disorder
- attention deficit.
This type of gambler often displays other behavioral problems unrelated to gambling, such as poor interpersonal skills, substance abuse, suicidality, low boredom threshold and criminal activity. They can find it difficult to engage in or stick to treatment plans.
Professional Gamblers vs. Amateur Gamblers
Another way to understand gamblers and gambling habits is to differentiate between professional and amateur gamblers.
Professional gamblers are people who gamble professionally and make a living out of it. They rely on skill rather than luck to win and have full control over the time, money and energy they spend on gambling. Professional gamblers know how to keep their emotions in check, learn from their mistakes, and hone their skills to avoid future losses. They are not usually addicted to gambling because problematic behaviors associated with addiction would diminish their self-control and rational thinking, which would inevitably lead to more losses than wins.
Amateur gamblers rely on luck rather than skill when placing a bet. Unlike professional gamblers, most amateurs don’t track their betting and don’t study the game to improve. Amateur gamblers are more likely to become problem gamblers as they have less self-control and discipline than professional players. Anyone who is preoccupied with gambling, and spends an increasing amount of time and money on it, despite serious consequences in their lives and the lives of their loved ones, has a gambling problem.
A case of mistaken identity?
Problem amateur gamblers can believe themselves to be, or pretend to be, semi-professional or professional gamblers. A study by Hing et Al, 2015 – “A Case of Mistaken Identity? A Comparison of Professional and Amateur Problem Gamblers” – surveyed 57 self-identified professional gamblers, 311 semi-professional gamblers and 4226 amateur gamblers. It compared their gambling behavior, problem gambling symptoms, related harms, recognition and help-seeking.
The research found that problem semi/professional gamblers were significantly more likely to report chasing losses, experience negative financial consequences and have higher psychological distress then problem amateur gamblers. It concluded that their self-identification as problem semi/professional gamblers was likely to be inaccurate and perhaps a way to avoid stigma and deny their problematic behavior. This group of problem gamblers would benefit from professional support to dispel their mistaken self-identity as professional gamblers.
The Gambling Continuum
Another way of classifying gambling behavior is using a gambling continuum that extends from non-gamblers to disordered gamblers.
At one end of the gambling continuum is non-gamblers. These are people who engage in other leisure activities and have no interest in gambling.
Recreational gamblers treat gambling as a fun activity and consider the cost of gambling to be payment for their entertainment. The experience is often more about socializing with friends, and gambling is not their primary focus. This type of gambler has full control over the time, money and energy they expend on gambling, and it has no negative consequences.
Problem gamblers experience some negative consequences of gambling although it is not yet consuming all parts of their lives, as it does for disordered gamblers. A problem gambler can go through periods where their gambling activities lessen and they are more in control of their gambling, in between periods of more persistent gambling. They may try to hide their activities and be secretive about unexplained absences, then lie or get angry if questioned about their behavior. It is important to seek help for problem gambling before it spirals out of control.
According to the American Psychiatric Association disordered gambling (also known as gambling disorder) “involves repeated problematic gambling behavior that causes significant problems or distress.” Disordered gamblers lead lives that are consumed by gambling:
- Frequently thinking about gambling and planning how and when to gamble next
- Making unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop gambling
- Continuing to gamble despite negative implications on relationships, work, school or home life
- Chasing the next win to compensate for the last loss.
Disordered gamblers need professional support in order to recover and regain control of their lives.
Gambling Disorder Test
Are you concerned about your gambling, or the behavior of a friend or family whose gambling seems to be out of control?
Take our quick and easy Gambling Disorder Test to find out whether you – or they – are showing signs of compulsive gambling. Our online gambling disorder test will help you understand how gambling is impacting your life. Common signs of a gambling disorder include:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Feeling irritable or angry
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Becoming isolated from friends and family
- Health problems
- Financial problems
- Relationship problems
- Changes in appetite
If you are experiencing any of these difficulties, we can help. You don’t have to struggle alone. We understand and can help.
Get help for gambling disorder
At Kindbridge, we offer first-class gambling therapy tailored to your needs. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you break the cycle. Receive effective online treatment that is accessible from any location. Book your free 30-minute consultation now.