Gamblers Anonymous: How it Reaches Out

And the research about compulsive gambling continues.

Like Preston and Smith, they argued that both alcoholics and compulsive gamblers are seen by others and by themselves as 'deviants'.

The AA and GA recovery programs attempt to 'delabel' (eliminate the deviant label) and 'relabel' (develop a new label that accounts for the behavior in a new way).

In the case of AA, the alcoholic's behavior is relabeled as a physical illness over which the alcoholic has no control.

The development of this 'physical illness' label has occurred over a long period of time, and now its use is widespread.

Labels with a culturally shared meaning (illness, disease) can be used to 'understand' the problem.

Although compulsive gambling is formally recognized as a 'mental disorder' by psychiatrists, there is no evidence of physical illness or disease, so it cannot be labeled as such.

Presumably, this difference in the ease and success with which compulsive gamblers can be relabeled accounts for at least some of the difference in the effectiveness of the AA and GA programs.

A study of fisrt-time attenders of a GA meeting in Scotland sheds some light on why some people persist in attending GA meetings and others drop out.

Both those who persist in attending and those who drop out indicated that they obtained useful information and advice and felt that they learned about their own problems by listening to others talk about theirs.

However, those who dropped out were more likely to believe that they could become 'controlled gamblers'.

Compared to long time members of GA and those newcomers who persisted in attending, dropouts also believed that they had not reached a 'low' as extreme as that of other members.

This suggests that the heaviest gamblers with the most severe and intense problem persist in attending, and those who compare themselves to others and conclude that their problems are not all that serious tend to drop out.

Another British study of 232 GA attenders found out that only 8 percent were no gambling after one year, and that after two years, seven percent were totally abstinent from gambling.

While compulsive gambling counselors generally regard spousal involvement in treatment and in GamAnon as important, the impact of the spouse's involvement on the compulsive gambler's recovery is not clear.

One small-scale study of the spouses of compulsive gamblers found that whether or not they participated in GamAnon was unrelated to the compulsive gambler's relapse (return to gambling) after beginning the recovery process.

It is altogether possible, of course, that GamAnon participation was beneficial for the spouse if not for the compulsive gambler.

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