Two Types of Gambling Addiction: Action vs Escape

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

Gambling addiction, an often overlooked and misunderstood affliction, continues to impact millions of lives worldwide. At its core, gambling addiction is the uncontrollable urge to continue gambling despite the negative consequences it may bring to one’s life. As the world of gambling becomes increasingly accessible and diverse, it is essential to recognize that not all gambling addictions are created equal.

Two distinct types of gambling addiction – action and escape gambling – affect individuals in unique ways, with each bearing similarities to certain categories of drugs. By examining action gambling and its likeness to stimulant drugs, as well as escape gambling and its parallels to opioids and depressants, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of gambling addiction. This knowledge, in turn, enables the development of more effective, targeted treatment strategies for those seeking a way out of the vicious cycle of gambling and its potentially life-altering consequences.

Action Gambling

Action gambling, one of the two primary types of gambling addiction, is characterized by an intense desire for excitement, high stakes, and social recognition. This form of gambling often involves high-risk, high-reward games where skill and strategy play a significant role. The social aspect and competitiveness of action gambling are key factors that contribute to its appeal. In this section, we will delve into the defining characteristics of action gambling, explore the psychological aspects driving individuals to engage in it, and draw comparisons to stimulant drugs in terms of their effects on brain chemistry, behavior, and addiction potential.

Definition and Characteristics of Action Gambling

High-risk, high-reward games

Action gamblers are drawn to games that involve higher stakes and the potential for significant monetary gains. These games typically include sports betting, poker, blackjack, and horse racing. Such games provide an adrenaline rush that stems from the uncertainty of the outcome and the allure of potentially substantial rewards. The inherent risk in these games is an essential element of their appeal, as action gamblers often thrive on the challenge and the thrill it provides.

Skill and strategy involved

Unlike some other forms of gambling, action gambling often requires a certain level of skill and knowledge. Action gamblers are more likely to engage in games where they can apply their expertise, intuition, or strategic thinking to influence the outcome. This aspect of control or perceived control contributes to the appeal of action gambling, as it fosters a sense of personal accomplishment and mastery.

Social aspect and competitiveness

Action gambling is frequently a social activity, with games like poker being played among groups of friends or in a casino setting where interaction with other players is common. The social nature of these games can be a significant factor driving action gamblers to participate. The competitive aspect, wherein players vie against one another or against the house, also plays a role in the allure of action gambling. The desire for social recognition and the validation that comes with winning further fuels the appeal of this type of gambling.

Psychological Aspects of Action Gambling

Thrill and excitement

The adrenaline rush associated with action gambling is a crucial component of its addictive nature. Action gamblers often report feeling an intense excitement or euphoria when engaged in high-risk gambling activities. This sensation, which can be compared to the “high” experienced by users of stimulant drugs, is a significant driver of continued participation in action gambling. The pursuit of this emotional state can lead to addiction, as individuals may become dependent on the thrill and excitement provided by gambling.

Desire for recognition and success

Action gamblers often have a strong desire for recognition and validation, which may stem from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy or a need for achievement. The pursuit of gambling success can serve as a means of compensating for these feelings, with the gambler seeking to prove their worth through their gambling prowess. This desire for recognition can become a powerful motivator, driving the individual to continue gambling in the hope of achieving success and the social validation that comes with it.

Sensation-seeking behavior

Sensation-seeking is a personality trait that involves the pursuit of novel and intense experiences, often accompanied by a willingness to take risks. Action gamblers frequently exhibit sensation-seeking behavior, which can contribute to their affinity for high-risk gambling activities. This propensity for risk-taking and the pursuit of novel experiences can be a contributing factor in the development of action gambling addiction.

Comparison to Stimulant Drugs

Similarities in effects on brain chemistry

Both action gambling and stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, produce similar effects on the brain’s reward system. The excitement and thrill associated with high-stakes gambling can cause the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure and reward. This surge in dopamine levels creates a sense of euphoria, similar to the high experienced by stimulant drug users. Over time, the brain may become reliant on the increased dopamine release associated with gambling, leading to addiction and the need for more significant risks or higher stakes to achieve the same pleasurable effects.

Shared behavioral and psychological patterns

Action gambling and stimulant drug use share several behavioral and psychological patterns that contribute to their addictive nature. Both activities provide a rush of excitement and feelings of empowerment, which can become increasingly alluring for those with a predisposition for risk-taking or sensation-seeking behavior. Additionally, both action gamblers and stimulant drug users often exhibit a desire for social recognition and validation, which can drive them to engage in risky activities in pursuit of success and acknowledgment from their peers.

Potential for addiction and negative consequences

The similarities between action gambling and stimulant drug use extend to their potential for addiction and the negative consequences that can result from excessive engagement in these activities. In both cases, individuals may develop a dependence on the feelings of excitement and euphoria that accompany their respective pursuits. As their tolerance to these sensations grows, they may require increasingly intense experiences to achieve the same level of pleasure, potentially leading to a downward spiral of addiction.

The negative consequences of action gambling addiction can be severe and far-reaching, impacting not only the individual’s financial situation but also their relationships, mental health, and overall well-being. Similarly, stimulant drug addiction can have dire consequences on an individual’s physical and mental health, social life, and financial stability. The potential for such negative outcomes underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing the underlying motivations and psychological factors that contribute to action gambling addiction and its parallels with stimulant drug use.

Escape Gambling

Escape gambling, in contrast to action gambling, is characterized by a desire to seek solace and relief from emotional pain, stress, or personal issues. This type of gambling often involves low-risk, low-reward games that require little skill or strategy and can be solitary and repetitive in nature. Escape gamblers use gambling as a coping mechanism to numb their feelings and dissociate from their problems. In this section, we will explore the defining characteristics of escape gambling, examine the psychological aspects that drive individuals to engage in it, and draw comparisons to opioids and depressants in terms of their effects on brain chemistry, behavior, and addiction potential.

Definition and Characteristics of Escape Gambling

Low-risk, low-reward games

Escape gamblers are typically drawn to games that involve lower stakes and smaller potential rewards, such as slot machines, video poker, bingo, or lottery games. These games often require minimal skill or strategy and offer a more predictable and less intense experience compared to high-risk, high-reward games favored by action gamblers. The lower stakes and perceived lower risk associated with these games can create a sense of safety and predictability that is appealing to escape gamblers.

Limited skill and strategy required

Unlike action gambling, escape gambling does not demand a high degree of skill or strategy. The games favored by escape gamblers are often based on chance, with little opportunity for the player to influence the outcome. This lack of control can be comforting for escape gamblers, as it allows them to relinquish responsibility for their actions and focus solely on the distraction provided by the game.

Solitary and repetitive nature

Escape gambling is often a solitary activity, with individuals engaging in games that allow for minimal social interaction. This can provide an opportunity for escape gamblers to retreat into a world where they can forget their problems and focus on the game at hand. The repetitive nature of many escape gambling games, such as the continuous spinning of slot machine reels or the drawing of lottery numbers, can have a soothing, almost hypnotic effect on the player, further facilitating their dissociation from reality.

Psychological Aspects of Escape Gambling

Coping mechanism for stress or emotional pain

Escape gambling serves as a coping mechanism for individuals dealing with stress, emotional pain, or personal issues. The act of gambling provides a temporary escape from these difficulties, allowing the individual to forget their problems and focus on the immediate task of playing the game. This numbing effect can be a powerful draw for escape gamblers, who may come to rely on gambling as a means of avoiding their problems or coping with difficult emotions.

Distraction and numbing effect

The primary appeal of escape gambling lies in its ability to provide a distraction and a numbing effect for those who engage in it. The repetitive, low-stakes nature of escape gambling games can induce a trance-like state, allowing the player to forget their troubles and lose themselves in the activity. This temporary relief from emotional pain or stress can be highly addictive, as individuals may become increasingly reliant on gambling to numb their feelings and avoid confronting their issues.

Dissociation and avoidance behavior

Escape gambling often involves a degree of dissociation and avoidance behavior, as individuals use gambling as a means of escaping their problems and retreating into a world where they can forget their difficulties. This avoidance behavior can become entrenched over time, with the individual becoming increasingly dependent on gambling as their primary means of coping with life’s challenges. This reliance on escape gambling can exacerbate existing problems and create new issues, further fueling the cycle of addiction.

Comparison to Opioids and Depressants

Similarities in effects on brain chemistry

Both escape gambling and the use of opioids or depressants, such as prescription painkillers or alcohol, produce similar effects on the brain’s reward system. When engaged in escape gambling, the brain releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers that also induce feelings of relaxation and contentment. This release of endorphins creates a soothing effect, similar to the sensation experienced by users of opioids or depressants. Over time, escape gamblers may become reliant on the calming and numbing effects of gambling, leading to addiction and the need for increased engagement in these activities to achieve the same sense of relief.

Shared behavioral and psychological patterns

Escape gambling and the use of opioids or depressants share several behavioral and psychological patterns that contribute to their addictive nature. Both activities serve as coping mechanisms, providing temporary relief from emotional pain, stress, or personal issues. Individuals engaging in either escape gambling or using opioids or depressants may exhibit avoidance behavior and dissociation, relying on these activities as a means of escaping their problems and numbing their emotions. This reliance on gambling or substance use as a coping mechanism can lead to addiction, as individuals become increasingly dependent on these activities for emotional relief and avoidance of their issues.

Potential for addiction and negative consequences

The similarities between escape gambling and the use of opioids or depressants extend to their potential for addiction and the negative consequences that can result from excessive engagement in these activities. In both cases, individuals may develop a dependence on the soothing and numbing effects provided by their respective pursuits. As their tolerance to these sensations grows, they may require increasingly intense or frequent engagement in these activities to achieve the same level of relief, potentially leading to a downward spiral of addiction.

The negative consequences of escape gambling addiction can be severe and far-reaching, impacting not only the individual’s financial situation but also their relationships, mental health, and overall well-being. Similarly, addiction to opioids or depressants can have dire consequences on an individual’s physical and mental health, social life, and financial stability. The potential for such negative outcomes underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing the underlying motivations and psychological factors that contribute to escape gambling addiction and its parallels with opioid and depressant use.

Comparing Action Gambling and Escape Gambling

Although action gambling and escape gambling are characterized by distinct features and motivations, they share certain similarities in the psychological mechanisms driving individuals to engage in these activities. Both forms of gambling addiction can serve as coping mechanisms for stress, emotional pain, or personal issues, providing temporary relief and a sense of escape from reality. In this section, we will compare action gambling and escape gambling, exploring the similarities and differences between these two forms of addiction and discussing how action gambling can also function as a form of escape and avoidance.

Both action and escape gambling can serve as coping mechanisms, providing a means for individuals to temporarily forget their problems and find relief from emotional pain, stress, or personal issues. Although the specific motivations and triggers may differ between action and escape gamblers, the underlying desire to escape from reality and find solace in gambling is a common thread that connects these two forms of addiction.

Action gambling and escape gambling share similarities in terms of their potential for addiction and the negative consequences that can result from excessive engagement in these activities. Both forms of gambling addiction can lead to financial, relational, mental health, and overall well-being problems, creating a cycle of addiction that can be difficult to break.

Conclusion

Gambling addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue, with different forms and motivations driving individuals to engage in potentially harmful gambling behaviors. By examining action gambling and escape gambling, we have highlighted the distinct characteristics and psychological underpinnings of each form of addiction, while also acknowledging the shared elements and potential for negative consequences.

Action gambling is driven by the desire for excitement, high stakes, and social recognition, paralleling the effects and addictive nature of stimulant drugs. Conversely, escape gambling is characterized by the pursuit of solace and relief from emotional pain, stress, or personal issues, mirroring the effects and addiction potential of opioids and depressants. However, both forms of gambling addiction can serve as coping mechanisms and provide a sense of escape from reality.

By recognizing and exploring the differences and similarities between action and escape gambling, we can develop a more nuanced understanding of gambling addiction and its various manifestations. This deeper understanding can help inform the creation of targeted treatment strategies, allowing those affected by gambling addiction to regain control of their lives and break free from the destructive cycle of gambling.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com. It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.


Like this article? Join the mailing list to receive email updates when new ones are published:

You May Also Like…

How to Stop Gambling Urges

How to Stop Gambling Urges

As you watch yet another gambling advertisement, the familiar pull of a gambling urge grips you. This urge isn't just...

0 Comments

Leave a Reply