Do you (or does yours) have a gambling addiction?
Let's talk about "reinforcement." To most people, that means something similar to "reward." Scientists have done lots experiments with both humans and other creatures, such as rats and mice and pigeons, and get similar results. Often they use "reinforcement," or reward to see what kinds of results they get under varying conditions.
There is a difference between the effects of continuous reinforcement and "intermittent" reinforcement. As an example of continuous reinforcement, this writer once trained a rat to press a pedal to get some food. Once he got good at that, I turned off the switch that provided his food.
Many people think if the reward isn't there, the behavior just stops. In fact, it actually increases temporarily. In the case of my rat, he began pressing hard and rapidly on the lever, and eventually stopped, and walked around the cage, sniffing as he went. He began to lick his paws and groom his fur. Then, he took another look at the lever, walked over there, gave a few feeble pushes on the lever, then gave up and never tried again.
When one is training parents to withhold rewards from a child for misbehavior, they often think it doesn't work, because the child does not instantly stop misbehaving after he has lost a reward. But they need to know that he will get worse before he gets better. He will try even harder to have things his way, before he decides that isn't going to work.
More powerful than reward as a reinforcement of behavior is an intermittent reward. That is, if he isn't rewarded every time, it will be even harder to quit trying to make it work.
If a salesman knows that one in ten people he talks to will buy something, he isn't discouraged when most of them don't. He knows that he just has to keep trying, and he will make a sale. If he doesn't know which of the ten people will buy, either the third or the seventh or the ninth, then he will persist, whenever he is not succeeding at the moment.
Suppose his product goes out of style, and he does not realize that. He is no longer making a sale to every 10 people he sees. He persists trying much longer, than if he had previously been selling to every customer. If he makes a sale to his 20th customer, that will encourage him to keep trying, and encourage his belief that rewards are still waiting for him.
A habitual gambler is also a victim of this psychology. S/he is prone to expect rewards when they are not likely, because he has experienced them part of the time before, which falsely buoys his optimism. He has also lost many more times, but he is convinced that he will win if he tries enough times. He may have won big before, or known somebody who has, and believes he may hit it big again.
There is an element of truth in this, but a much larger element of the truth is that his times losing by far outweigh his times winning, and a big win is far less likely than a small one or a loss.
The casinos don't mind seeing a big winner walk out the door. They know he is great advertising, not only inside the casino, but also after he gets home and boasts of his winnings. They know he encourages others in the casino to keep trying, and to lose. And they know he will return and they will win back all he took away, and more.
Many casinos have bells and sirens that go off when a person wins at a mechanical device, such as a slot machine. This is to attract the attention of the other gamblers, and to encourage them to feel their own chances of winning are greater.
A gambler is encouraged to keep gambling by popular superstitions or mistaken beliefs in "rational" gambling strategies. He may believe in "luck" as if it is a magical aura that hangs over him. He may believe he is on a "hot streak," and be encouraged to gamble more until he has lost his winnings.
He may avoid playing on a machine that has recently paid off, on the theory that it is unlikely the machine could pay off twice in a row. The fact is, the past performance of a machine has no effect on its future performance. If you flip a penny and it lands on heads 10 times in a row, that has zero effect on whether the next flip will be heads or tails. None. Nada.
He may use a strategy of doubling his bets, which the casinos don't mind at all. Consider the numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, and 2048. That's only 12 doublings, and further doublings quickly become astronomical. Eventually you don't have enough money to double your bet.
"Oh, but I only double my bets when I lose," he might say. But the odds are structured so that you will lose far more often than you win, so you wind up chasing your losses with bigger bets, and even if you win, you're back at square zero again. In the long run, you end up unable to cover your next bet. If you believe you're "gambling smart," you're probably deceiving yourself.
One error a gambler might make is to feel he has to "win back" his losses in the same place or at least in the same way he lost it. This fails, because he is more likely to just lose again. The best strategy for regaining gambling losses is to earn the money, which has a more-nearly 100% chance of succeeding. There is nothing written in the sky saying you must regain your losses in the same way you lost them.
Some gamblers play to cover up bad feelings that don't actually relate to gambling. Yet because losing is more likely than winning, they end up feeling bad more often than good.
The solution to a gambling habit is to recognize that the problem is not in the environment. It is a disorder resulting from experience, residing within one's self. Treat the disorder, and you treat the gambling.
There are several methods mentioned on this website for treating psychic pain. And hypnotism can also be useful.