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Features of personality changes in the process of developing dependence on gambling

A. Y. Zinina  psychologist,

Saint Petersburg State University,

Saint Petersburg, Russia


Modern society is experiencing a crisis, the roots of which lie not only in the economic sphere, but primarily in the sphere of the spiritual and moral life of a person and society as a whole. A deep moral crisis creates a kind of orientation vacuum in the personality structure.

The resulting feeling of anxiety, dissatisfaction and spiritual emptiness, causes a natural desire to get rid of this feeling and enter the comfort zone without significant effort. One of the ways to resist the impact of negative tendencies, replace the feeling of inner emptiness and emotional emasculation, relax and change the tone without much effort, is gambling.

It should be noted that not every gambler is prone to gambling addiction. For those who go to the casino or play online to have fun, play and socialize, this is a common behavior. However, for some it becomes an addiction. In this regard, it is important to keep track of what symptoms you can talk about gambling addiction.

As gambling addiction develops, the initial motives (mercantile interest with the motivation for quick and easy money, «dreams of a new bright life», the motive of compensating for social status, the communicative motive, the motivation of «refuge», getting a pleasant thrill from risk (hedonic motivation), etc.) are gradually replaced by the motive of the obsessive need for the game. The sensations received during the game come to the fore. The possibility of an emotional shake-up acts as a valuable aspiration of the gamblers. Self-control is gradually lost, the gamblers’ own boundaries and restrictions are erased and canceled, and temporary boundaries are broken. Despite thoughts of stopping, the game is extended. There is a transformation of the motives of the game - the main thing is to experience excitement and excitement, to get immediate sensual pleasure from the act of playing. Gambling and an altered state of consciousness becomes an independent motivating motive. Gradually, the gamblers loses the ability to interrupt the game by an effort of will, the phenomenon of «shifting the motive to the goal» (according to A.N. Leontiev) is realized, the hierarchy of motives changes.

Due to the impoverishment of the need-motivational sphere, changes in the personality of game addicts occur – the leveling of personal characteristics:

·               moral and ethical decline in personality (indifferent attitude to what is not related to the object of addiction; irresponsibility towards family, loved ones, work; reduced demands on appearance, personal hygiene; increase in selfish tendencies and irritability; bouts of aggression; acts of physical violence; criminal behavior) [9, 10];

·               deformation of the system of value orientations (the predominance of «selfish» and «narrow personal» values aimed at the implementation of the game process, at the achievement of pleasure; the dominance of asocial motives of behavior, covered with socially acceptable values) [8, 11];

·               change in the semantic sphere – experiencing an existential crisis (contradictions between external reality and internal reflection; dissatisfaction with the lived part of life and life at the present time; vagueness of life goals; low meaningfulness; reduced need for self-realization, etc.) [1, 13];

·               building a system of psychological defenses and employing non-constructive coping defenses that distort objective facts about addiction, diminish illness criticality, and obstruct the ability to see and feel reality [3,5];

·               «decrease» in self-esteem (low differentiation of self-consciousness, incompleteness of the processes of identification of the «I»; insufficient psychological autonomy; self-doubt; hidden «inferiority complex»; narcissistic disorder that performs a protective psychological function, etc.) [7, 13];

·               transformation of the time perspective (pathological gamblers' ideas about the present, past and future are directly related to the game, as a result of which the awareness of oneself as something separated from the actions performed by the game disappears). The game is perceived as some value. Because the path to obtain this value is the meaning of life, the gambler has no drive for personal growth and advancement [2, 4, 13];

It should be noted that some gamblers admit that they do not want to grow up and take responsibility for life. They are characterized by the conviction that the world is problematic and that in order to eliminate problems, the world must change. At the clinical level, these signs are regarded as manifestations of mental infantilism, as a special type of mental maturation disorder [1].

In addition, pathological gamblers, guided by the "here and now" principle, are unable to predict the long-term effects of their own acts. They persist in performing the same activity, hoping for a different outcome. When faced with a situation for the first time, gamblers are not able to predict life events and rely on their own experience. In this regard, a semantic restructuring of the personality of gamblers is necessary.

As the disease develops, psychological defenses protect the morbid «Personality + Addiction» system to a greater extent, creating obstacles for processing problematic personal experiences and gaining new experience. Getting addicted to the game, it is difficult for the player to understand where his personality manifests itself, and where the disease. Such a «confused» person understands that it is not advisable to play, but continues to perform these actions again, is not included in the understanding of the problem, and isolates himself from experiences. Pathological gamblers ignore the inner world and any kind of introspection. They do not notice the craving for the game or are afraid to admit it to themselves. Leon Wurmser [12] aptly called this style of avoidance behavior «psychophobia».

The low ego strength of pathological gamblers, combined with narcissism, can contribute to abdicating responsibility and blaming others, particularly fortune. As a result, stable negative personality traits are formed - intolerance, envy, conceit, suspicion, which determine the behavior of the individual and the life path in general.

The loss of close connection with reality in people with gambling addiction is manifested in the position of «observer of one's own life». L. E. Komarova [6] notes that the very act of gambling in its psychological sense is an act of renunciation of freedom, the renunciation of the «I» from reality and immersion in the world of omnipotent fantasies. Fantasies are a way not to see and not feel one's own experiences, the destruction of life, both one's own and those close to one's. As a result, gambling addiction is a type of «creative adaptation» to both internal and exterior reality. Escape into a fantasy world is a sign of personal immaturity [6].

Given these repercussions, when addiction is discovered, rehabilitation is required to reintegrate a person into society, allowing them to work through various parts of their addiction while also preventing relapses. The process of rehabilitation of gamblers can be optimized through purposeful psychological impact and training: impacts aimed at reconstructing the value-semantic structure, forming an adequate self-esteem, the ability to realize oneself and one's capabilities, the ability to constructively resolve conflicts and stressful situations, as well as teaching methods of emotional self-regulation and ways of self-realization.


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  3. Galkin K. Yu. Coping behavior in case of pathological gambling // Materials of the XI Congress of Psychiatrists of Russia. M., 2005. Р. 336. [in Russian]
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  11. Sleczka P., Braun-Michl B., Kraus L. Gamblers' attitudes towards money and their relationship to gambling disorder among young men //Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2020. Vol. 9(3). Р. 744–755. DOI https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.2020.00042
  12. Wurmser L. Compulsiveness and conflict: the difference between description and explanation in the treatment of addictive behavior // S. Dowling. M. Independent firm «Class», 2000.
  13. Zinina A. Y., Gurieva S. D., Gogitsaeva O. U. Transformation of the Value-Semantic Sphere of Pathological Players in the Conditions of Rehabilitation // Journal of Intellectual Disability-Diagnosis and Treatment, 2021. Vol. 9(6). Р. 628–640. DOI https://doi.org/10.6000/2292-2598.2021.09.06.6
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