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Medical Facts Behind Gambling Addiction

Evening Edition

Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor's $1 billion gambling addiction was blamed on a tumor, but what are the medical facts behind problem gambling? David Peters, a family therapist in San Diego, explains.

Aired 2/18/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Dr. Marc A. Norman, Ph.D. Associate Professor University of California San Diego

David Peters, Family Therapist



Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor appeared in federal court and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in which she acknowledged misappropriating millions of dollars from her deceased husband's charitable foundation, February 14, 2013.

The headlines were almost unbelievable. A billion dollars wagered, millions lost—and the legacy of one of San Diego's most popular mayors forever tainted. The legal consequences of Maureen O'Connor's gambling, the charges of embezzlement from her late husband's foundation, have apparently been worked out. But the question remains, how does something of that magnitude happen?

O'Connor's attorney says it was partially due to a brain tumor.

Dr. Marc A. Norman, an assistant clinical professor in neuropsychiatry at UC San Diego, told KPBS he has never seen a tumor lead to problem gambling, but said it is possible.

"There are a lot of behaviors that may come out and it's not very predictable," he said. "So you may see changes in striking out at people, in arguing with people, and sexual behavior, all types of things. Gambling is certainly within the realm of behavioral change we may see with a brain tumor."

A tumor can cause a number of changes in the brain and behavior, depending on where the tumor is located and the type of tumor, he said.

"Because some tumors grow very quickly and create a very profound and quick change and other changes may be very slow and almost imperceptible in that they grow very slowly," he said. "So a lot of it depends on location."

O'Connor's attorney also said her problems led to "grief gambling" because it followed a series of losses in her life.

David Peters, a family therapist in San Diego, said that explanation is "not unbelievable at all."

"What happens is with many addictions and compulsive behaviors, they serve to cover or override an uncomfortable emotion," he said. "If someone is struggling with a grief reaction and they are not successful at it, then maybe they isolate themselves, they may be into a clinical depression and they may fill the emptiness inside by something that arouses them, be it food, gambling, cocaine."

The legal agreement requires O'Connor to get treated for gambling addiction.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'ldefreece'

ldefreece | February 19, 2013 at 5:09 p.m. ― 4 years ago

This was such a well presented Q&A, I'm glad I was able to catch it on air.

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Avatar for user 'Crolley40'

Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 8 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Speaking of human genome and physiological map of human brain, its neuro circuit thru MRI scan, and link that to specific tendency of human behaviors, and thinking process, (came into focus by pervasive gun rampage by those who had certain history of mental depression) let this research be done by neuro scientists, and social psychologists who also study connection between violent video games and compulsive behaviors as gun massacre. On kpbs a former S.D mayor O.Cornor was charged with expropriating 2million from a charitable funds org. and spent the money to sustain her internet gambling addiction it said (well it later eleborated she also patroned some local indian casino in S.D county) and from my first response if I didn't look for specifics around it without even investigating her as a person (with face in interviews) in her mayoral tenure, (as it also said she had been a very popular figure from late 80s to early 90s, I'd simply have suggested she needed some treatment with counseling, medication if recommanded, and family support so on. But it just slapped me with a certain thought that I posted previously on subject of 'spiritual domain'. People like my dad or any others who're occupied with banking, politics, or any other fields that prioritize concrete evidence and specifics, but not vague & spiritual concept will more likely scoff at what I'm about to say, but please bear with my petty thoughts.

When I visioned at least a couple of times in my dreams some stellar formation, or constellation with somewhat over simplified stars, some planetary and other stellar bodies I guess, it just reinforced by belief there's this 'higher domain' whether we as humans understand this concept or not that we're bound to this secrecy.. (like in religious scripture as bible, people study one monotheistic deity that's God, and divine revelation & trinity secret) But it appears most people pre disposed and pre destined to their will and self control, their normal daily cycle will refuse to observe this potential truth (I'm nor a saint or someone wiht key to this secrecy so I absolutely can't but say it's simply what came into my mind) that they're very closely connected to this 'higher domain' which I guess can influence them one way or the other. But this is not my point! Whether they choose to agree or not (that they're bound to this influence of so called higher domain) let them worry and figure- none of my business whether people like my dad who always must be precise in a single penny accept it or not.

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Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 8:03 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I'd say.. this higher domain of spiritual level (in veil of secrecy) won't be so transparent & unveiled so easily, but it normally supposed to function as a sort of natural boost or remedy since it's part of our creation- if we're ever to recognize Humans are spiritual entities, not just emotional fleshy social animal like dogs, other pets that also have their own emotion but unfound 'spirit' this is already plainly known so.. I was saying we're 'spiritual beings' to enable you to have better understanding of, if you will, the higher channel that works into our decision making, having daily living and religious activities and so on. So, if I say the former mayor who, as one media correspondent described this way, so pitifully gambled away and not just monetary loss but ruining her reputation, is a and tought from my perspective, special circumstance deserve recognition within, or in consideration of (or combination with?) this higher spiritual domain thing I'm concerned about, you will want to debate me in what extent (&circumstance) or criteria she begs to differ from any other addictive gambling cases who're less justified with their ill judgements. But my point isn't this at all.. I'm not advocating her action or trying to minimize it in moral standpoint.

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Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 8:06 p.m. ― 4 years ago

As the gun debate is going on nationwide, politicians and the public are now more seriously into details of per ciminal basis like looking thru Adam Lanza's personal background, and what led to his such violent behavior, time is ripe I believe to study in macroscope various variants that might (in any possible way)have influenced his mental state of the time he committed this crime, other than what our logics tell us to (investigate) like violent video games, parenting, peer relationship in school, or attained personality traits so on. To aid you to grapple with this 'higher domain' theory any imaginable mean possible, I would say this can 'function' as a 'cluster' clearance house if you will.. I just put what its role can be but not what it is.. To put its such functioning in the most trivial manner possible for your understanding, 'higher domain' can play certain role for you as a form of 'boost' to aid you write with greater efficiency and passion, become more fluent and proficient in speech so on/im not saying though there's any magic in such capability apart from strenuous inputs of knowledge. Due to its complexities and spiritual secrecy mingled with our daily (lower domain) living that's already sophisticated ever more than before telling such immediate functioning of it is much less important than what I may find it hard to put into words. Not very unlike people nowadays are feeling this world is getting tough and perilous in some sense, very unbalance in tons of aspects, extreme polarization in money, idea is just one of them, but still fairly managing to survive well with great persistence and endurance, also skillfully manuipulating their leverage (not necessarily in negative aspect/since everyone has to survive instinctly). But choosing to be vulnerable (when each individual doesn't have to!) to be sacrificed for others' benefit may be not a sign of weakness but a virtue somehow to be reward by what we may never be able to imagine perhaps by this higher spiritual power, or just mechainsm naturally existing with us (like a Symbiosis). Some will still think this as a weakness not a merit.

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Avatar for user 'Crolley40'

Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 8:10 p.m. ― 4 years ago

But what I came today in anecdoting the embezzlement case of former S.D mayor is not to point this "potentially intervening" mechanism (or self governing entity of God) bringing us justice for those in need of its(or His) help, but voidance of it due to attributor of evil imbalance or I'd say..'artificially created element' that broke the net of this harmony&balance between the higher spiritual domain and our daily decision making driven destiny which ought to be naturally governed and steered by the former. Like a rock falling down on earth from outer space unluckily, or a guy that got hit by someone's thrown ball, some people can be more susceptible to this greater variation in relation with the two, thus their clearance house(the higher domain) isn't working properly to boost them when they need one badly, thus staggnating their progress, keeping them in certain condition of stalemate unable to pass to the next chapter, or plunging them to greater vulnerability to outside influence of demonic force, negative force, or others (who never have mean intention or character itself but with force of contrasting plenatary origin) around them. Now who will unclog the toilet? Or keep saying there's no spiritual problem in this world?

*sorry for many grammatical errors/i do see them! and thanks for hearing my petty thoughts..

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Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 9:44 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Well..there exist many religious sects as Christianity that believes in one God(though it preaches teachings of Christ, Son of God, and Holy Spirit present within us/though considered as One entity in Holy secret of Trinity), Buddhism of which the central theme is Buddha’s teachings of transcendence over humane elements, Islam that has biblical version of Koran, Muhammad as a prophet, and Hinduism that accepts polytheism and ‘reincarnation’. In what people are more accustomed with conventional beliefs in various religious sects I can see my thoughts on the existence of ‘higher spiritual entity-if it possesses self sustaining, autonomic power-or un divine domain/or law existing in itself (but not as a divine entity)’ can be easily discredited as an unfound philosophy or heresy by most religious sects which will even regard my thoughts as ‘profanity’. Buy my focus I’d like to reiterate has less to do with validity of conventional religious doctrine or beliefs, desanctifying such ‘spiritual entity’ as a form of breathless ‘center’ in higher level automatically exerting its influence to this world, not by its divinity but in accordance with the natural law (of universe) itself. To say more plainly, I’m not here to establish “new” religious sect of heresy or such beliefs therein, or to disparage & delegitamize any established ones.

To give an anecdote though I feel very ashamed to confess in reminiscences of still so pitiful periods I had experienced while in San Diego, I on numerous occasions had been standing on the median & corners of street flying a sign solicitating money.. Some were spent to buy foods, get a place to crash in at night, buy things or.. gambling. I definitely didn’t enjoy it because such behaviors were contradicting to my still ramnant (and standing strong) sense of dignity & morality that had not made me feel happy getting some money doing it. My working ethics and personal integrity might have shrunk considerably then however, I was not feeling morally justified keeping on ilicit behaviors nor I was crazy. I wasn’t on any drugs or any such that could compromise my sense of righteousness and personal integrity.. and of course not simply because I was lazy. Then you must rebuke me how come I didn’t resolve to become more dilligent to find a job, go to local agencies or aid organizations to find a better pathway out of the ditch which I dug myself you say.. Common sense people will chastise me feeling more pitiful on me, that I could resolve to be more dilligent, enduring, taking care of myself and going to a local church to find help available at the least that I somehow chose not to.. or chose not to keep on my commitment!

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Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 9:49 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Yes they’re right that I didn’t go to churches, quit doing that embarassing acts, or try hard enough to become a more respected and contributing person. Why didn’t I! I ask myself.
But what I have beeing telling from the beginning of so called petty thoughts concerning ‘higher spiritual domain/or entity’ (probably more directly or indirectly governing us & myself in universal law or accord) isn’t to justify the past ‘scanty resolution, intelligence, motivation..’ that failed to keep me in a better shape, but to spotlight my such allegation how we as a society neglect to recognize this spiritual inter connectiveness we’re living in other than concept of religious doctrine or teachings of salvation. What if I say.. only if this blockade could be taken care of then (in spiritual sense) I could have life more resourceful and engaging to benefit all round me too!
This suppression is not reigning heavier upon me now in Korea. This isn’t more complex than family issue, career, marriage (I’m still single by the way).. Perhaps what I’m looking for myself and feeling regretful of the mistakes the former mayor made (allegedly also aggravated by her brain tumor condition) feeling for her can be indeed much greater than mankind worries as money, job, family relation, simple mental condition so on.. This higher domain is certainly working not necessarily “fairly” whether people are willing to accept to such entity or not..

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Avatar for user 'Crolley40'

Crolley40 | February 21, 2013 at 9:55 p.m. ― 4 years ago

This suppression is "now"/ or omit 'not' isn't more complex=> "is"

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