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Some Short Odds on Gambling: A Psychoanalytical Approach

The Letter, Issue 5, Autumn 1995, Pages 33 - 49


Rik Loose


We often consider gambling to be dangerous in the same way as drugs and alcohol: It is something to which we can become addicted. The destruction and deterioration caused by addictions reveals a similar pattern and is expressed on a physical, psychological and social level. The unifying nature of their manifestation for the gaze of the Other is reflected in the uniformity of the description of their symptomatology. This has led to the development of treatment models which make hardly any distinction between addictions or addicts, such as the 12-step programmes of self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.

Several questions arise when we look at the addictions from a psychoanalytic perspective (which is the perspective of the subject and not that of the description of observable clinical phenomena). Are different psychological mechanisms at work in compulsive gambling and the toxicomanias (alcoholism and drug addiction)? Are we dealing with different kinds of enjoyment? [1] The scope of this paper will not allow us to formulate an answer to these questions, but we will take the first steps toward an understanding of gambling as an addiction and the way in which it differs from the toxicomanias in terms of the enjoyment which compels the compulsive gambler.

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