LCL: Gambling’s rush pushes lawyer to brink of losing big

Issue July/August 2009

My coworkers have no idea how out of control my life is, though my work is beginning to show the effect. I am addicted to online gambling, something that has become obvious to me after I decided twice to stop and was unable to. I get a rush from gambling unlike anything else, and I keep wanting more. There have been times when I have been winning, money which could have provided a needed cushion against the prospect of layoff in these difficult times, but instead of stopping, I push the betting further until, ultimately, I have lost much more than I ever won.

It's been hard to admit that I have no ability to harness my intellect or capacity for lawyerly logic to override the drive to gamble. Since I'm single, there is no dismayed spouse to face. But the combination of the Web sites themselves and my worries about unpaid bills and mounting debt is distracting me from the work that my colleagues believe I'm handling. What can I do to turn things around before I am discovered and discarded?

The "rush" that you describe seems to be a common denominator between compulsive gambling and stimulating addictive drugs, especially for those who have been termed "action-seeker" gamblers (as opposed to "escape-seekers"). As with such drugs, many gamblers experience subjective withdrawal symptoms when the activity is interrupted, and there is a risk of relapse even after years of abstinence (with little or no chance of turning into a "moderate" gambler).

Interestingly, new kinds of brain scans used in neuropsychological research show that pathological gamblers exhibit the same kinds of brain activity as do drug addicts when exposed to stimuli associated with the addictive behavior. In other words, for someone addicted to gambling, neuron-chemical events perpetuate behaviors in which we engage without our own consent, so to speak. It therefore becomes highly worthwhile to avoid any gambling behavior or stimuli associated with it.

If you think it's only a matter of time until your firm discovers that the quality of your work is suffering, and especially if it has an employee assistance program, you might consider speaking to an EAP counselor, or someone the firm may have designated as a contact for alcohol/drug problems. (LCL is, of course, available as your Massachusetts lawyer assistance program, though we will have a less clear picture of the culture of your specific workplace.) Under the kind of policy associated with the employee assistance model, you may get support, and a little time, to return to your former level of functioning by getting appropriate treatment.

Treatment may consist of a combination of approaches: self-help (typically Gamblers Anonymous); psychotherapy (often of a cognitive-behavioral bent, focusing on matters such as developing strategies to cope with urges to gamble); and possibly, medications. Antidepressants may be helpful, especially if your mood has been affected (and we know that gambling problems can lead to depression that is sometimes quite severe). There has also been some research suggesting (with mixed results) that craving-reduction medications developed for use with opiates and alcohol may also help reduce the craving for the next bet.

We can advise you with some assuredness that you should not expect, at any point, to turn into a "normal" gambler, and that getting help from others (peers and/or professionals) is more likely to bring success than attempting to solve the problem on your own.

Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.

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