Pathologic Optimism

While looking at his $300,000 of debts, Adam has never frowned. He seems overconfident. In my clinical experience, many gamblers are optimistic and positive. If they don’t gamble and invest their positivity in other aspects, they probably would have certain achievements.

“In fact, I’m not particularly indulgent in gambling. However, every man must have at least one hobby. I’m not keen on smoking and drinking, but gambling only. Also, gambling helped me restore my life and repay my debts once! What I lack now is just family expense! As long as I can control myself better, I can still restore my life! I can even win some money every day for my family!”

Adam’s problem seems to be his lack of insight in his problem’s severity. Gambling has become his habit after many years. Regardless of its toxicity, Adam has already adapted, since gambling brought him excitement and hope. However, it was absolutely wrong for him to perceive that he had a self-control ability. “If you can control it, then how are you indebted?” I asked, and then there was silence.

Gamblers are like frogs in boiling water. They don’t jump out but appreciate the warmth of bath. Before getting addicted, gambling lets them win again and again. And when they really get money from gambling, they will believe that they will win again and that they can leave and control, regardless of all the failures in the past. Overcoming this overoptimistic attitude is the first step of getting rid of one’s addiction.

“How does gambling help solve your debts problem?” “I experienced it! I really did repay my debts by gambling.” Adam argued and reasoned for his gambling behaviour. Adam only recalled his wining experience and ignored his losses. This is selective memory, a common cognitive distortion. Cognitive behaviour therapy aims at supporting gamblers to correct their misunderstanding of gambling. Professor Ladoucer, a Canadian psychologist awarded with responsible gambling research, pointed out that some common cognitive misunderstandings were about gamblers’ unspoken belief, for example,

“I will win after certain times of losses!” (But the winning amount can never recover the losses)

“I will win when I feel it!” (Desire to win deceives many people)

“Results of gambling have its patterns!” (This is a huge misunderstanding. It usually takes one whole session to help a gambler understand the independence between probability and patterns)

I asked Adam, “To calculate it seriously, which one is more, debts or losses?” He was stunned. He claimed he gambled wisely, yet, in fact, he never looked into the reality.


Even you don’t have any gambling problem, you can also calculate your results.