Pathological Gamblers: Cognitive Distortions

In this article, we talk about the types of cognitive distortions that pathological gamblers often experience and suggest some treatment options.
Pathological gamblers: cognitive distortions

Cognitive impairment is a common, human biased cognitive treatment. And when we talk about mental disorders, such as those suffered by pathological gamblers, they are very common among patients.

Gambling is one of the most primitive activities in human history. History books contain the names of famous people who were obsessive gamblers. Emperor Claudius, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Giacomo Casanova are just a few examples.

However, gambling did not become more important until 1980, when it became clear that it could lead to serious problems. It was decided to include it in the DSM-III classification system as a diagnostic classification.


When we talk about pathological gambling, we mean so-called “games of chance” or “games of chance”. Thus, video games do not fall into this category, although that does not mean that these gamblers could not also become addicted to gaming.

Pathological gamblers are identified by the fact that, according to the diagnostic manual, they lose control of gambling. In the same way as in the formation of a dependent relationship. The gambler continues to play, even though he is aware of its negative consequences.

The classification of pathological gamblers changed from impulse control disorder to the category of addictive disorders of the DSM-5 classification system. This is because it has many characteristics of dependency.

The fruitless efforts of the risk-taker to resist the urge to play often lead to the complete deterioration of personal, family and / or professional goals.

Cognitive bias of pathological gamblers

Game table

Cognitive distortions are prejudices that are triggered by information processing. They are not necessarily pathological, as we all have them to a greater or lesser extent. Instead, a person can modify them if they recur too often, as well as prevent them from moving forward. The most typical distortions of pathological gamblers are:

  • The illusion of control. This is to believe that the outcome of a game depends on the activity itself rather than chance. Man really believes that he can control the game and its outcome himself. Pathological gamblers, for example, may think that “I have an unmistakable winning tactic”. They believe in this distortion and logically then continue to play.
  • Focus on absolute occurrence. Gamblers measure their success in the game by just observing the money they earn, forgetting the money they lost. It is very common for them to lose much more than they win. However, this is an illusion that keeps them anchored in addiction.
  • Superstition or illusion correlation. These are random connections between certain events or behaviors and the reward. Gamblers therefore begin to believe that said event increases their likelihood of winning. This is similar to being under enchantment or performing a special ritual. It is, of course, a magical idea, as pathological gamblers are unable to control their wins or losses. Here’s one example of such a cognitive distortion: “If I kiss the dice twice before throwing it, I win”.
  • Humanization of machines. Some risk takers give animated features to the devices or inanimate objects they play. They might think, “this machine is deceiving me, it wants to fool me, but it doesn’t work because I’m smarter”.

Helping pathological gamblers

Pathological gamblers need help.

The first step in overcoming cognitive distortion is for pathological gamblers to notice said distortion. Cognitive distortions are not easy to detect as they are programmed over time. One way to detect them is to ask a gambler to fill out some sort of self-assessment form when he or she feels the need to play. If it is explained correctly and the gambler does it right, he becomes aware of his cognitive distortions.

To do that, we can show him the most typical distortions he has and ask him to tell him what he identifies with the most. When we do so, a person must understand that such cognitive distortions are largely responsible for his or her motivation to continue playing.

In order to shape them, it is important to question and exchange them for ideas based on objectivity and reality. This is achievable through the Socratic method and guided discoveries. So man asks himself what evidence he has to sustain a particular idea. For example, “How am I sure my method is infallible?”, “Does the loss or gain really depend on me?” and “What proves it?”.


After practicing the Socratic method, gamblers notice the conclusion of error and are more prone to change their way of thinking. To do that, they just have to go through all the questions asked and come up with a sensible answer. It becomes their spiritual mantra from that moment on. For example: “I don’t have any power on a machine that works randomly”. “I’ve won sometimes, but the overall data shows I’ve lost a lot more, so wins don’t compensate for losses”.

Through the exercise, gamblers become more aware of the uselessness of their behavior. They realize that their problem only creates new problems. After all, gamblers should be able to lose interest in gambling and stop gambling.

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