Category Archives: Psychology
Over the Christmas period, I was at a family wedding in the Cotswolds when by chance I came across Dr. Raj Persaud’s 2003 book From The Edge of the Couch (subtitled ‘Bizarre psychiatric cases and what they teach us about ourselves’) for sale in a charity shop in nearby Moreton-in-Marsh. As it was selling really cheaply I decided to buy it (even though this was the book where a number of the cases Dr. Persaud recounted were plagiarized from other people’s work).
One of the more interesting case studies in the book concerned a 1998 case study published by Dr. R.S. Shiwach and Dr. J. Prosser in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. The paper concerned the treatment of an “unusual case of masochism” (where the individual gained sexual arousal and pleasure from being burnt (i.e., pyrophilia) and crushed (i.e., ‘crush fetishism’) that often meant he was in dangerous and potentially life threatening situations. As the authors summarized:
“Masochistic sexual activity is potentially dangerous, rarely reported voluntarily, and hard to treat. [Our paper] describes a masochist patient who received sexual gratification from being burnt or crushed. Anti-androgen medication [leuprolide acetate], serotonin uptake inhibitor [fluoxetine], and psychodynamic psychotherapy along with sexual education and social-skills training and aversive behavior therapy [covert sensitization and olfactory aversion] were all tried over a period of 9 months. The response was measured by effects of treatments on the frequency of erotic fantasies and masturbation”.
The male masochist was a single 38-year-old man that turned up at a hospital burns unit for treatment to extensive burns on his lower body (around 20% of his total body area) before being referred to the psychiatric unit. His pyrophilic urges and interest in being crushed were long-standing and dated back to mid-adolescence. The incident that led to the hospital admission had involved one of the man’s regular ways of gaining sexual arousal which was to set fire to refuse collecting trucks (i.e., ‘dumpsters’) while he was inside of them and simultaneously masturbating. Dr. Persaud’s reported that:
‘[The man] would then masturbate before getting out [of the dumpster]. His burns had occurred when a plastic dumpster melted and turned over. His first sexual experience at age 15 [years] had occurred when he curled himself up in an oven and ejaculated – an adventure that had been prompted by having been threatened as a child with being roasted ‘like a pig’ as a punishment. A social isolate, he enjoyed watching videos and reading about people being burned at the stake or crushed. He had also attempted autoerotic asphyxia, but relinquished this as ‘too dangerous’”.
The recollection of ejaculating while inside an oven appears to be a critical event in the acquisition and development of the man’s unusual sexual preferences. As Dr. Persaud noted:
“[The man remembered] entering a big unlit oven out of curiosity and liking the warmth and sense of suffocation but did not realize he had ejaculated until the third such instance. He remained a socially isolated virgin and gave a history of sexual disinterest in males or females and of ignorance of sexuality in general…Twice he came close to self-immolation after pouring gasoline on himself…he denied getting any pleasure out of seeing other people suffer…he worked in places where he could have easy access to large waste disposers, ovens, and box compactors”.
Consequently, Dr. Persaud thought (as I do) that learning theory best explained this man’s etiology and that psychoanalytic factors like guilt and punishment may have also been important. This particular case was also reported in a 2006 paper by Dr. D.J. Williams (i.e., ‘Different [painful) strokes for different folks) in the journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. Williams noted that the man had been arrested on a number of different occasions for climbing into refuse collecting dumpsters and had also broken his pelvis as a consequence of being crushed by a box compactor. Williams noted that: “clearly, most experts would agree that acting out fantasies in these dangerous situations posed a significant risk of severe physical harm and death, not to mention being illegal”. Dr. Persaud’s account also more specifically reported that:
‘[The man] would climb into refuse collecting trucks and ejaculate at the sensation of being crushed, only escaping at the last possible minute. He admitted masturbating almost daily to deviant sexual fantasies or to pictures of fire, people being burned or crushed, and even just the sight of chimneys. Recently he had been climbing into a large dumpster, pouring alcohol on the refuse and setting it on fire. He managed to masturbate and get out of the refuse bin with minor burns twice, but the plastic dumpster eventually melted and overturned, causing the injuries he now had”.
Despite the many different pharmacological and psychological interventions, none appeared to have any long-lasting effect. The first intervention was pharmacological and involved being injected weekly with an anti-androgen. This treatment resulted in a decrease of his fetishistic sexual fantasies and an overall decrease in his sex drive. However, the man didn’t like the fact that his sex drive has been significantly inhibited and asked to be taken off the medication. He also took anti-depressants over an 18-week period and then had aversive behaviour therapy (olfaction aversion) and psychodynamic therapy, social skills training, and sexual education. He was discharged after 34 weeks of treatment but on follow-up had resumed his fetishistic behaviour. Drs. Shewach and Prosser concluded that: “Anti-androgens and aversive behavior therapies may be the most effective treatments for such cases, at least in the short-term, although the underlying social deficits and the need to reshape the sexual behavior ought to be addressed in the long-term”.
One of the observations that Dr. Persaud made about this case was that the masochism in this case did not involve psychological humiliation or any interaction with other people in the man’s life. I would also add that most of the focus and commentary in this particular case has been on the pyrophilic aspects rather than the crush fetishism aspects. This may be because there has been far less in the medical and clinical literature on crush fetishism than pyrophilia. However, this is not the only case where crush fetishism has been associated with another sexual paraphilia. At the end of last year, my case study of eproctophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from flatulence) in the Archives of Sexual Behavior involved an eproctophile that was also a crush fetishist.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Balachandra, K. & Swaminath, S. (2002). Fire fetishism in a female Aasonist? Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 47, 487-488.
Bourget, D. & Bradford, J.M.W (1987). Fire fetishism, diagnostic and clinical implications: A review of two cases. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 32, 459-462.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.
Litman, L.C. (1999). A case of pyrophilia. Canadian Psychological Association Bulletin, February, 18-20.
Persaud. R. (2003). From The Edge Of The Couch. London: Bantam Press.
Quinsey, V.L., Chaplin, T.C. & Upfold, D. (1989). Arsonists and sexual arousal to fire setting: Correlation unsupported, Canadian Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 203-209.
Shiwach, R. S., & Prosser, J. (1998). Treatment of an unusual case of masochism. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 24, 303-307.
Williams, D. J. (2006). Different (painful) strokes for different folks: A general overview of sexual sadomasochism (SM) and its diversity. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 13, 333-346.
“The quest to have children can become a vortex that gets faster and faster and sucks people in. Women will sell everything and anything to have the treatment if they are short of funds. They will risk their lives, there’s no doubt about it. I have treated young women with cancer who have refused to have treatment for their illness until they have got pregnant and given birth, knowing they are risking their lives. Some of these women do, indeed, go on to die [from cancer], but they die happy, feeling that they have achieved something greater than their own continued existence. Everyone involved in these scenarios is trying to do the right thing, but the extraordinary energy of a couple’s determination creates a vicious circle. [Some couples are driven by] an urge stronger than addiction and more powerful than obsession” (Professor Sammy Lee, Chief Scientist of the IVF [in-vitro fertilization] programme at Wellington Hospital, London; The Guardian, 2009).
Today’s blog started as an email from one of my PhD students, Manpreet Dhuffar, who sent me an interesting article in the New York Times entitled ‘Addicted to IVF, or addicted to hope?’ The opening quote by one of the UK’s pioneers in IVF egg donation certainly believes that the urge for childless couples to have children is stronger than the urges addicts feel for their drugs or behaviours of choice and that their pursuit is obsessive. In the UK, the maximum number of IVF cycles is three but Professor Lee admitted that some couples had gone through 12 cycles and that he knew of clinicians that had continued providing IVF treatment even when they knew there was little chance of pregnancy success.
On one level, I obviously don’t believe that undergoing IVF can be a genuine addiction. To me, undergoing IVF treatment appears to be similar to those people who claim to be addicted to plastic surgery or having more and more tattoos. These are activities that are salient and preoccupying but are not activities that are engaged in day-in, day-out. Although there are no papers on ‘IVF addiction’ a 2002 paper in the journal Nursing Inquiry by Dr. Sheryl de Lacey analysed the discourse of women with infertility problems and that had undergone IVF and discontinued. Dr. de Lacey reported:
“[IVF treatment was described as] a metaphor of lottery in discourses of infertility…showing how when women are situated as gamblers, the metaphor is instrumental in polarising them into ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in relation to the subjectivity of motherhood. I further deconstruct these subjectivities, showing how ‘winners’ are valorised and ‘losers’ are pathologised. But importantly, I show how infertile women who are not mothers resisted locating themselves as ‘losers’ in a metaphor of lottery and instead situated themselves in a contesting metaphor of investment as diligent ‘workers’ and as active agents in choosing the best employment of their bodily and monetary resources”.
I found these types of discourse myself in various online parenting and infertility forums. For instance, at websites such as babycenter.com and the Pursuit of Motherhood blog, women wrote:
- Extract 1: “I once read/heard a storyline that started with ‘Addicted to IVF’. I never thought that I might be one of them. The hope that comes with each cycle erases all the negativity, pain, injections, miscarriages, etc. that has already happened. The hope makes you think that it’s possible, even when no one really knows why my babies are sticking around long enough to grow. Each time, I say that I’ve had enough, yet I find myself going back. Even now, I’m ‘taking a break’ to lose the 30 pounds I’ve gained and lower my now raised blood pressure. Now that I’m 4 months off and halfway to my goals, I’m ready to jump in to IVF again. But, really, what’s different? There are no answers to why I can’t seem to hold on to a healthy pregnancy, yet my prognosis is ‘favorable’ since I have always responded ‘textbook’. Am I doing this out of vain, or is there, sometime in my future, a baby waiting to be mine? Thank goodness my insurance limits my tries to 6 fresh cycles because I don’t know if I’ll ever lose hope or stop trying
- Extract 2: “I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. I know it’s only the 29th of December but there’s nothing I like more than a resolution. I want to be brave enough to make Number 1 on the list: Give up IVF. And if that sounds like IVF is an addiction as much as drugs and alcohol that’s because it is. In fact, it’s definitely more expensive than a Class A habit. Even as I think and write it, my heart starts to palpitate because where IVF is concerned maybe I have become an addict. Just like an alcoholic who is convinced that happiness lies in that next drink, I’ve become convinced that happiness lies in our next round of IVF. I should start a support group. IVF Anonymous”
Some have even gone as far to write a whole book on their ‘addiction’ to IVF (for instance, check out Tertia Albertyn’s (funny, yet moving) book So Close: Infertile and Addicted to Hope). In researching this article, I also came across a good article (‘Are you addicted to IVF?) on the Fertility Lab Insider website written by ‘Carole’. She made reference to the research of Dr. Janet Blenner who developed a stage theory relating to those passing through infertility treatment (in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship). Using grounded theory, Blenner explored the perceptions of 25 couples as they underwent infertility assessment and treatment. Her theory consists of three concepts – engagement, immersion, and disengagement. To me this sounds like something that successfully treated addicts also go through. Blenner also describes eight stages that individuals pass through: (i) experiencing a dawning of awareness, (ii) facing a new reality, (iii) having hope and determination, (iv) intensifying treatment, (v) spiralling down, (vi) letting go, (vii) quitting and moving out, and (viii) shifting the focus. As Carole notes in relation to these eight stages:
“They seem similar to stages of grief or stages of finding sobriety after addiction. Some patients get stuck at Step 5, ‘spiralling down’. They are the patients who are confronted with repeated failures and evidence of new hurdles to their fertility, patients for whom even Herculean efforts in terms of effort and expense can be expected to be successful less than 5% of the time. If someone told you that you should bet $12,000, $15,000, even $20,000 on a horse that has a 5% or less chance of winning the race, you’d tell them to get lost, that’s crazy…Yet, IVF patients that go in for multiple rounds of IVF, beyond two or three are doing exactly that. Most clinics have pulled out all the stops, applied all the tricks they know by the third IVF cycle. If it still isn’t working, either the clinic is incompetent or IVF is not the right solution for that patient”.
Here, there is yet another gambling analogy which – given my ‘day job’ as a Professor of Gambling Studies – didn’t pass me by. Another online article by Mia Freedman also talked of infertility treatment as a form of gambling addiction and echoes the preceding quote. Freedman asserted:
“I am writing to express my extreme distress at what appears to be the most expensive lottery ticket in town for over 40s these days – IVF. I know of four women who have undergoing the process – one for the ninth time – and it appears they are constantly being told the next time they will be lucky. At around $10k a cycle, that is a lot of money on a chance that is less than one in 10. I am seeing marriages crumble, hearts break, hormones go wild and mental and physical devastation as a result of every cycle that doesn’t produced much longed for babies. I am seeing women almost lose their minds and empty their bank accounts to feed their obsession to be pregnant. Don’t get me wrong, I think IVF is a wonderful gift and I don’t deny anyone wanting a baby – no matter what their age – to give it a go. But surely, when chances are so low there should be comprehensive counselling where financial, marital, mental and physical heath issues are discussed before a 40 plus woman buys yet another expensive lottery ticket in hope of a baby?”
Although I personally wouldn’t conceptualize persistent IVF treatment as an addiction, there are certainly addiction-like elements in most of the stories I have read. Furthermore, and irrespective of whether such behaviour can be classed as addictive, there is no doubt that the need and want for a child appears to be the single most important thing in the lives of such individuals and that based on some of the accounts that I have come across, the need for children could perhaps be classed as an obsession – at least at the time of undergoing IVF.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Albertyn, T.L. (2009). So Close: Infertile and Addicted to Hope. Gauteng: Porcupine Press.
Blenner, J. L. (1990). Passage through infertility treatment: A stage theory. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 22(3), 153-158.
De Lacey, S. (2002). IVF as lottery or investment: Contesting metaphors in discourses of infertility. Nursing Inquiry, 9(1), 43-51.
Fertility Lab Insider (2013). Are you addicted to IVF? June 5. Located at: http://fertilitylabinsider.com/2013/06/are-you-addicted-to-ivf/
Freedman, M. (2010). When does IVF become an addiction? Mama Mia, January 18. Located at: http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/when-does-ivf-become-a-form-of-gambling-addiction/
Hill, A. (2009). Women are risking their lives to have IVF babies. The Guardian, September 13. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/13/motherhood-fertility-treatment-cancer-ivf
Klein, A. (2014). Addicted to IVF, or addicted to hope? New York Times, January 27. Located at: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/addicted-to-i-v-f-or-addicted-to-hope/
Winslow, A. (2014). Addicted to IVF. Laughter Through Tears, January 29. Located at: http://laughterthroughtearsblog.com/2014/01/29/addicted-to-ivf/
Zoll, M. (2013). Generation IVF. Making a Baby in the Lab: 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me. Lilith. Located at: http://lilith.org/articles/generation-i-v-f/
In previous blogs I have examined sthenolagnia (a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from individuals displaying strength or muscles). Another related behaviour is cratolagnia where – according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices – individuals derive sexual arousal and pleasure more generally from displays of strength (rather than muscles in and of themselves). Following that blog, I received a couple of emails from two males who suggested that I should write a blog on ‘muscle worship’ that although having a sexual aspect, is not the only aspect. According to the Wikipedia entry on muscle worship:
“Muscle worship is a social behaviour, usually with a sexual aspect (a form of body worship), in which a participant, the worshipper, touches the muscles of another participant, the dominator, in sexually arousing ways, which can include rubbing, massaging, kissing, licking, “lift and carry”, and various wrestling holds. The dominator is almost always either a bodybuilder, a fitness competitor, or wrestler, an individual with a large body size and a high degree of visible muscle mass. The worshipper is often, but not always, skinnier, smaller, and more out of shape”.
According to a couple of academic authors, muscle worshippers can be of either gender, and of any sexual orientation, although many authors appear to suggest it is more prevalent among gay men who view bodybuilders as little more than ‘sex objects’ and because bodybuilding is common among members of the gay community (see for instance: Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s 2009 book America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life, or John Edward Campbell’s 2004 book Getting it on Online: Cyberspace, Gay Male Sexuality, and Embodied Identity). A quick search online also suggests there is a large gay pornographic market for muscle worship along with numerous webcam muscle worship sites. Muscle worship appears to have crossovers with other sexually paraphilic behaviour such as sexual masochism. As the Wikipedia entry notes:
“The amount of forceful domination and pain used in muscle worship varies widely, depending on the desires of the participants. Sometimes, the dominator uses his or her size and strength to pin a smaller worshiper, forcing the worshipper to praise the dominator’s muscles, while in other cases, the worshiper simply feels and compliments the muscles of a flexing dominator. Male and female bodybuilders offer muscle worship sessions for a price in order to supplement their low or nonexistent income from bodybuilding competitions. Paid sessions sometimes involve sexual gratification, even when well-known competitors are involved, they offer fans the chance to meet in person and touch a highly muscular man or woman”.
A 2008 paper by Dr. Niall Richardson (2008) in the Journal of Gender Studies also made some interesting (and important) distinctions between muscle worship and two other erotic practices often associated with bodybuilding: ‘hustling’ and ‘sponsorship fantasies’. More specifically, Richardson wrote:
“Alan Klein describes ‘hustling’ as ‘the selling of implicit or explicit sex by a bodybuilder’ (1987, p. 132) and this can range from doing stripogram type work to engaging in full penetrative sex. Likewise muscle-worship is not to be confused with ‘sponsorship’ or ‘growth fantasies’. Katie Arnoldi’s superb first novel, Chemical Pink (a book which will probably become as revered a text for cultural critics of bodybuilding as Sam Fussell’s Muscle ) describes, often in lurid detail, the horrors of female bodybuilding sponsorship. In Chemical Pink, Arnoldi depicts the ‘sponsorship’ agreement between female bodybuilder Aurora and her sponsor Charles. It soon becomes evident that Charles has a Pygmalion fantasy and gains supreme pleasure from his manipulation of Aurora’s body, feeding her endless protein-rich meals and hefty cycles of anabolic steroids and growth hormones (Arnoldi 2001, pp. 100–102, 111). While Henry Higgins delighted in shaping Eliza’s social graces, the muscle sponsor wants to build and shape his idealized female body and, as such, muscle-sponsorship can be compared to other sexual fantasies, such as ‘feederism’, in which the manipulation of the sexual partner’s weight is the sexual pleasure”.
What I found most interesting here is how various aspects of Muscle Worship are compared to both mainstream (i.e., prostitution) and not-so-mainstream (e.g., feederism) sexual behaviours. Another short article I read on muscle fetishism (outside of the gay community as it concerned female muscle growth) on the Sex and the University website suggested that there were also links with macrophilia (sexual arousal from giants) and breast expansion fetishes:
“Female muscle growth (FMG) is a fantasy genre involving muscular growth of a woman. Many who enjoy these fantasies are attracted to Female bodybuilding or other muscular women. This interest frequently centers on the biceps. FMG is related to the growth fantasies giantess and breast expansion fetishism. This fantasy is sometimes about an equalization or reversal of the stereotypical power relationship (that some people imagine/take for granted) in a heterosexual couple”.
As I noted in my previous blog on sthenolagnia, FMG devotees frequent places where female body builders are found (e.g., gyms, health clubs, bodybuilding tournaments, etc.). However, I also noted that some FMG devotion may be based in fantasy rather than actuality, particularly if it is related to aspects of macrophilia and transformation fetishes (both of which I covered in previous blogs). For instance, Marvel Comics character ‘She-Hulk’ is a popular representation of FMG fantasy and can be found on websites such as the Female Muscle Factory. Although there is little in the way of academic research on the topic, many devotees of Muscle Worship appear to be sexually aroused by an equalization (or reversal) of the stereotypical power relationship among heterosexual couples.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Assael, S. (2007). Steroid Nation. New York: ESPN Books.
Burt, J. (2007). Top five freaky fetishes. The Sun, September 7. Located at: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/21158/Top-five-freaky-fetishes.html
Campbell, E. (2004). Getting it on Online: Cyberspace, Gay male Sexuality, and Embodied Identity. London: Routledge.
Carson, H.A. (2010). A Roaring Girl: An interview with the Thinking Man’s Hooker. Bloomington, Indiana: Author House.
Denizet-Lewis, B. (2009). America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Klein, A.M. (1993). Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Richardson, N. (2008): Flex-rated! Female bodybuilding: feminist resistance or erotic spectacle? Journal of Gender Studies, 17, 289-301
Sex and the University (2008). Sthenolagnia: Muscle fetishism. Located at: http://sexandtheuniversity.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/sthenolagnia-muscle-fetishism/
Steele, V. (1996). Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wikipedia (2012). Muscle worship. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_worship
Like many others around the world, last week I was genuinely shocked when I heard about the death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on February 2 (2014). One of my regular blog readers emailed me a couple of days ago asking if I would be writing a blog on him because of all his well publicized past drug and alcohol addiction. As the Wikipedia entry on his personal life noted:
“In a 2006 interview, Hoffman revealed he had suffered from drug and alcohol abuse and that after graduating from college at age 22, he went to rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. He said he had abused ‘anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all’. Hoffman relapsed more than 20 years later with heroin and addiction to prescription medications. He subsequently checked himself into a drug rehab for about ten days in May 2013”.
I had already decided I would do a belated tribute to Seymour Hoffman but not in relation to his chemical addictions – but in relation to his portrayal of gambling addiction in the 2003 film Owning Mahowny. Although my all-time favourite gambling film is the 1974 movie The Gambler starring James Caan (a film on which I’ve written academically – see ‘Further Reading’ below), Owning Mahowny runs a close second. One of the key strengths of Owning Mahowny was that it was based on a real person. Seymour Hoffman played ‘Dan Mahowny’ (whereas the real life person was Brian Molony).
Brian Malony worked as a Toronto-based bank clerk at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). Over a one-and-a-half year period – and to fund his gambling addiction – Molony embezzled over $10million from the bank. His story was later the subject of a best-selling book by Gary Ross (called Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony, and on which the screenplay to Owning Mahowny was based). Ross wrote his book following 4-5 hours of interviewing Molony every day for a month. Ross was asked what made Molony’s story so interesting:
“I was senior editor at ‘Saturday Night’ magazine at the time the fraud was discovered, right across the street from the Bay and Richmond (Toronto) branch of the CIBC. I assumed it was some sophisticated computer scam – how else could you liberate $10.2-million from a big bank? [I] was intrigued to learn from Eddie Greenspan, Brian Molony’s lawyer, that Molony was a compulsive gambler and that the frauds had been acts of improvised desperation rather than an elegant criminal scheme…Gambling addiction can be every bit as devastating, and as hard to treat, as a drug or alcohol dependency. It’s all the more insidious for being invisible, and it’s far more widespread than most people understand. A lot of social security checks, pay checks, and even liquidated homes end up on the casino’s bottom line”.
Additionally, and according to Molony’s Wikipedia entry:
“Molony, who had developed a passion for the race-track and gambling from the age of ten years, and acted as a bookie for his school-mates, graduated from the University of Western Ontario in London with a degree in journalism. Initially planning to be a financial writer, he did so well in a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce aptitude test that he was put in their management-training program and hired right out of university. Molony spent a few weeks as a teller before working in savings, current accounts, foreign exchange and loan accounting, then ‘floating’ among some of the Bank’s huge network of some 1,600 branches, which gave him a further broad exposure to the bank’s highly regimented workings and familiarity with its systems and internal weaknesses. On a modest annual salary of about $10,000, Molony led an unassuming lifestyle in Toronto, wearing inexpensive, ill-fitting clothes and leaving carefully calculated seven per cent tips in restaurants, at the same time he was embezzling $10.2 million from CIBC to feed his gambling habit, writing loans in the names of both real and fictitious companies. Molony was then able to transfer millions of dollars out of the bank through a company called California Clearing Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Desert Palace, a Las Vegas casino. This corporation’s only purpose was to let people deposit sums of money into the casino without detection”.
After 18 months of spending his employer’s money (including $4,732,000 lost at Caesars between February 7, 1981 to April 23, 1982), Molony lost half a million dollars at the Caesars casino playing table games in Atlantic City (AC). Molony had led the life of a ‘high roller, and was being heavily ‘comped’ with free luxury hotel rooms and access to a Lear jet to fly between AC and Vegas. Molony was eventually arrested (April 27, 1982), the day after he lost the money at Caesars. Later in the year (November 1983), Molony admitted during his trial that he had embezzled all the money from CICB and served 30 months in jail. One of his activities since leaving prison has been to lecture publicly on gambling addiction. At the same time that Molony went to jail, CIBC filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Caesars’ staff members should have realized that the money Molony was gambling with was not his own. The case was eventually settled out of court with the terms of the settlement remaining private.
Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Molony was excellent and provides true insight into life as a problem gambler. Obviously there is some artistic license in the dramatization of Molony’s life but all the key elements in the film were true. The film is noteworthy because (like The Gambler) the story concerns the effects of gambling addiction on the gambler and those around him rather than the glitz and glamour of gambling in Vegas and AC. Gary Ross, author of Stung was asked whether Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal bore similarity with Brian Molony. He replied:
“Remarkably so. They have the same stocky build, bushy moustache, glasses, slightly unkempt look, and earnestness. And Philip somehow managed to assimilate the psychic essence of Molony – a yawning emptiness that nothing except gambling was able to fill…It’s remarkably faithful to what actually happened. I assumed a great many liberties would be taken in the transition from page to screen, and I’m pleased that the changes were minor and inconsequential. The pathos and grimness of what happened is there in the movie”.
Griffiths, M. (2004). An empirical analysis of the film ‘The Gambler’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1(2), 39-43.
Ross, G. (1987). Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony. London: Stoddart.
Wikipedia (2014). Brian Molony. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Molony
Wikipedia (2014). Owning Mahowny. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owning_Mahowny
Wikipedia (2014). Philip Seymour Hoffman. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Seymour_Hoffman
Back in 1996, I published a paper on behavioural addictions in the Journal of Workplace Learning. One of my introductory paragraphs in that paper noted:
“There is now a growing movement (e.g. Miller, 1980; Orford, 1985) which views a number of behaviours as potentially addictive, including many behaviours which do not involve the ingestion of a drug. These include behaviours diverse as gambling (Griffiths, 1995), overeating (Orford, 1985), sex (Carnes, 1983), exercise (Glasser, 1976), computer game playing (Griffiths, 1993a), pair bonding (Peele and Brodsky, 1975), wealth acquisition (Slater, 1980) and even Rubik’s Cube (Alexander, 1981)! Such diversity has led to new all encompassing definitions of what constitutes addictive behaviour”.
The reason I mention this is that I was recently asked to comment on a story about ‘wealth addiction’ and I vaguely remembered that I had mentioned (in passing) Philip Slater’s 1980 book (also entitled Wealth Addiction). Slater’s book was written from a sociological standpoint and was both controversial and provocative. Slater claimed on the book cover that: ““Money is America’s most powerful drug. Here’s how it weakens us and how we can free ourselves”. I also came across an interesting 2012 article by journalist Scott Burns (on ‘wealth addiction revisited’) who noted that:
“One of the hallmarks of wealth addiction is very simple: more possessions but less use. We become so interested in possessing the thing that we lose the experience it provides. This can be as vast as owning homes all around the world, as some of the very rich do, as simple as Bernie Madoff’s shoe collection, or as obsessive as a collection of rare watches. Whatever it is, the wealth addict confuses possession with experience”.
Slater argued that our increasing reliance on money and all of the things that it can buy has the potential to become an obsession that can destroy individual lives. According to short article by Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, wealth addiction has three key characteristics:
- Tolerance: More and more money is needed to attain a baseline level of satisfaction.
- Withdrawal: The thought of losing money or not making it fills a person with fear, anxiety and stress.
- Negative consequences: In their pursuit of money, the person forgoes emotional fulfillment, intimate relationships and peace of mind.
These are actually three of the six criteria that I personally believe comprise genuine addictive behaviour (although I use the word ‘conflict’ rather than ‘negative consequences’; the other three criteria are salience, mood modification and relapse – see my previous blog on behavioural addiction for further details).
The reason why wealth addiction has made a re-appearance over the last month is because of an article published in the New York Times by Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader that worked on Wall Street (and who since the article has been published has been compared to Jordan Belfort, the person that Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed in the true story film The Wolf of Wall Street).
Polk’s article is an interesting read (whether you think wealth addiction exists or not) and I thought I would pick out some of the text and relate it to my own views about what constitutes addictive behaviour.
- Extract 1: “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million – and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted”
Here, Polk refers to his work bonuses becoming bigger and bigger and that they were never enough. To me, this sounds like some kind of tolerance effect with more and more money needed to achieve the desired (presumably mood modifying effect). Polk also claims – after the fact – that he had become addicted.
- Extract 2: “I was also a daily drinker and pot smoker and a regular user of cocaine, Ritalin and ecstasy. I had a propensity for self-destruction that had resulted in my getting suspended from Columbia for burglary, arrested twice and fired from an Internet company for fist fighting”.
Polk openly discusses his previous use of potentially addictive substances and made the comparisons himself between his self-confessed behavioural (wealth) addiction and his previous self-destructive chemical abuse. Some readers may jump to the conclusion that Polk had (or has) an ‘addictive personality’ but this is not something that I personally believe in. To me, Polk is displaying ‘reciprocity’ (swapping one potential addiction with another) rather than being a function of an underlying personality trait. Giving up one addiction often leaves a large void and sometimes the only way to fill it is by engaging in other behaviours that provide similar feelings and sensations.
- Extract 3: “My counselor didn’t share my elation [at earning more and more money]. She said I might be using money the same way I’d used drugs and alcohol – to make myself feel powerful — and that maybe it would benefit me to stop focusing on accumulating more and instead focus on healing my inner wound”.
Here, Polk’s therapist appears to hit the nail on the head in relation to what money represented for Polk. I would describe the feeling that Polk gained from both drugs and money was omnipotence (something that I have also written about in relation to my research on gambling).
- Extract 4: “I was terrified of running out of money and of forgoing future bonuses. More than anything, I was afraid that five or 10 years down the road, I’d feel like an idiot for walking away from my one chance to be really important. What made it harder was that people thought I was crazy for thinking about leaving. In 2010, in a final paroxysm of my withering addiction, I demanded $8 million instead of $3.6 million. My bosses said they’d raise my bonus if I agreed to stay several more years. Instead, I walked away”.
Polk’s language here is very much rooted in what addicts say about their drug or behaviour of choice (“terrified” of being without the thing they love doing). The weighing up of the costs clearly led to a decision for Polk to quit his “withering addiction” and there are obviously signs both here (and the rest of the article if you read it) that leaving behind the wealth left him with some feelings of regret.
- Extract 7: “The first year was really hard. I went through what I can only describe as withdrawal — waking up at nights panicked about running out of money, scouring the headlines to see which of my old co-workers had gotten promoted. Over time it got easier — I started to realize that I had enough money, and if I needed to make more, I could. But my wealth addiction still hasn’t gone completely away. Sometimes I still buy lottery tickets”.
Here, Polk uses addictive terminology (i.e., withdrawal) to describe giving up the activity that led to him gaining wealth. Again, the fear of running out of money appears psychologically similar to the fear that other more traditional addicts have about running out of their drug of choice. It could also be argued that he has given up one form of gambling (financial trading) with partially doing another (buying lottery tickets).
- Extract 8: “I was lucky. My experience with drugs and alcohol allowed me to recognize my pursuit of wealth as an addiction. The years of work I did with my counselor helped me heal the parts of myself that felt damaged and inadequate, so that I had enough of a core sense of self to walk away”
Polk uses his experiences in giving up drugs with the help of his therapist as a way of helping him give up wealth acquisition. Knowing you have managed to give up one addiction shows that you have the mental strength to give up another.
Obviously I have never met Polk and I can only go on how he described his experiences during his time on Wall Street, However, the insights shared do seem to suggest that some of the wealth acquisition behaviour had addictive elements and that there was at least some evidence that Polk – at least on some occasions – experienced salience, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and mood modification. Whether he was genuinely addicted to money in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to psychoactive substances is debatable. However, theoretically, I can see how someone might be become addicted to wealth. There are also interesting questions as to whether wealth acquisition may be an underlying motivation for those addicted to work.
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