SBO.net: We are here today with Peter Ferentzy, Ph.D, author of “Dealing with Addiction – Why the Twentieth Century was Wrong”, “Dealing with an Addict – What you need to know if someone you care for has a drug and alcohol problem” and co-author of “A History of Problem Gambling – Temperance, Substance Abuse, Medicine and Metaphors”. He has also written numerous articles for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today, amongst other publications.
Peter, great to speak to you today. If you wouldn’t mind by starting off with a bit about yourself and your background…
Peter Ferentzy: Alright, well, my background. My PhD was in social and political thought. I was interested in the French social historian Michel Foucault who had done histories of madness, histories of sexuality. I wanted to do history of addiction, so I did. That’s how I got into addiction studies, and I was, I had that expertise in the addictions, and then when I finished my PhD I was having trouble finding work. For a while I was a phone psychic. Then I was a bouncer, but there were opportunities in problem gambling so I finally found work in my field, and I started studying pathological gambling and I’ve done a lot of writing on that. I’ve struggled with addictions of my own, and if you go to my website you might be surprised at what you find. One person who reviewed my first book wrote, “Peter Ferentzy is the only PhD crackhead that Google knows, so he’s not hard to find,” so I am a popular author and I’m active on the public talk circuit. I’m politically committed to making changes.
MARKETING OF GAMBLING
SBO.net: Gambling companies at the moment seem to be trying to soften the image of gambling to being a relaxing and fun form of entertainment. They’re trying to use humour in their advertising to try and reduce the way gambling is perceived in terms of being a problem. What would your view be on this?
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah, well, okay, I think that when you look at the way in which gambling is marketed, they’re going to play upon one psychological issue that is specific to gambling. This is what we often in the field call the ‘gambler’s fallacy’. They’re cognitive distortions associated with all addictions. People often lie to themselves. Denial is a function of the human condition, but with gambling there’s a special kind of self-deception. A gambler often thinks that if he threw three heads in a row, the next one is likely to be tails, and that isn’t so. It’s always 50-50, so there’s a big, big cognitive issue with gambling. Some pathological gamblers will wear diapers when they go to a casino, because they believe that when they stay at a certain machine or in a table they are due for a win, and that isn’t so. It’s totally random, but the industry will play upon that.
SBO.net: Pathological gamblers go so far as to wear diapers when they’re gambling?
Peter Ferentzy: Yes, they have the belief that if they lose for a half hour straight on a machine, then the machine is due for a payout. This isn’t so. It’s always perfectly random, but that cognitive distortion is big in gambling.
Calculation of odds is specific to gambling, and perhaps another way to look at it is if you look at recovery from gambling, patience is a big message. Patience is perhaps more important to a gambler in recovery than it is to a substance addict. I’ll tell you why. Each addict must resist the instant gratification associated with their game of choice, their drug of choice, okay? So you need to put off that instant gratification, yes, you need to be a little more patient, but a gambler is confronted by another kind of instant gratification, the real prospect of solving his or her problems overnight. You could go to the casino, and you could win $100,000. It’s possible. Nobody thinks that he is going to pay off his mortgage or put her kids through college because they get drunk or because they smoke a bunch of crack, but gamblers can really think that they might solve their problems, so when I was studying Gamblers Anonymous, I learned that one of their most important messages was ‘don’t try to solve all your problems at once’.
GAMBLERS AND SUBSTANCE ABUSERS
SBO.net: And would that apply to only gambling, or does it also apply to other vices?
Peter Ferentzy: Well, that’s, well, like I say, one gambler put it to me like this, “I have to be doubly on guard” – he was also an alcoholic – “against the temptation to gamble, because I have no memories of winning while drinking.” You don’t pick up a bottle of vodka and think, “Drinking this bottle is going to help me pay my mortgage,” but you do hit the casino or you do play some online poker thinking that ‘maybe this activity will help me to pay off my mortgage’.
SBO.net: Okay, so how do they try to deal with gambling addictions differently to, say, the substance abuse, which would be the easiest one to compare it to?
Peter Ferentzy: Well, often the messages are very similar. Gambling, pathological gambling, is a newer field, and gambling addiction and substance abuse are, think of them as kindred afflictions. They have many similar areas, so they learn a lot. The gambling people have learned a great deal from substance abuse people, but the emphasis on cognition is more accentuated in gambling, the lies that gamblers tell themselves. Drunkards might tell themselves, “Hey, I can control it.” There’s a bit of denial there when you can’t. A gambler might say to himself, “I can control it,” a bit of denial, yes. But there’s another level of cognitive distortion in gambling that’s associated with odds, like I told you already.
So, the emphasis on cognitive restructuring will be stronger when you’re dealing with a gambler than you are when you’re dealing with a drinker or an IV drug user.
SBO.net: Do you think it’s a lot harder to convince a gambler that they have a problem compared to somebody who has a substance abuse problem, because obviously the substance can be seen as the problem whereas a gambler has it in their head, the gambler’s fallacy as you mentioned, that they’re going to win?
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s harder to convince them that they have a problem. It might be, I’m not sure. It’s often hard to convince anybody that he or she has a problem. Think of denial as endemic to the human condition, not this magic thing that only haunts addicts. If you have a young infant and that child is showing signs of some kind of a disability, you might want to tell yourself it isn’t so. You might not want to admit it to yourself, so denial is a function of the human condition, and substance addicts are no different, so because they have a problem part of them wants to lie and say, “No, I don’t really have a problem.” Yeah, I don’t know if it’s stronger with the gambling, but I’ll tell you the message of abstinence is going to be a lot stronger in recovery from gambling than it will be when it comes to substances, and do you know why?
Peter Ferentzy: Okay, I’ll tell you why then. (Laughs) It’s my job to tell people why. Okay, alright, let’s say you have a drinking problem or you have a cocaine problem. You’ve been cleaned out for a year, you go out, you get drunk, you do a bunch of cocaine, one or the other or both. You spent some money, maybe you’ve spent €500, maybe 1000, but after that you can pick up the pieces and if you didn’t wrap your car around a tree, and probably you didn’t, then you can get on with your life. A gambler can play his home away overnight. You see, nobody can smoke that much crack. Nobody can drink that much beer. A gambler can play his house away overnight.
GAMBLING BEING LEGALIZED MAKES IT MORE FAMILY FRIENDLY
SBO.net: Now gambling is being advertised as family-friendly and not as evil as it was perceived as, do you think that’s going to make it harder to deal with gamblers?
Peter Ferentzy: Well, what has been happening is more mainstream elements are developing gambling problems. When most gambling took place at the racetrack and it was in the hands of bookies and underground elements, a very high percentage of problem gamblers were men and people more on the fringe, the kind of person who doesn’t mind rubbing elbows with wise guys. But with the proliferation of legal gambling venues, more regular middle class people are involved and more women.
The women haven’t caught up yet but they’re catching up. There was a time when it was safe to say that two out of three, maybe three out of four problem gamblers were men. That probably isn’t true anymore. Women are approaching the 50-50 mark. They’re catching up to us, because we have created venues that are more female friendly.