Medical relabeling in Gamblers Anonymous: The construction of an ideal member

Abstract

A 12-month participant observation study of two Gamblers Anonymous (GA) groups in South Wales was prompted by concern with the increasing emphasis placed by professional and academic investigators upon a medical understanding of gambling. Such an understanding attributes little to the capacity of individuals apart from the ability to lose control of themselves through the contraction of a disease commonly described as "compulsive gambling. " Through the collection of information from GA meetings, personal interviews, and other informal gatherings, it is concluded that two broad consequences arise from encountering fellow sufferers: an acceptance of the state of their condition (diseased) or a rejection of such a diagnosis (in spite of mirror-image selves) but with the knowledge that they are returning to the "outside" world with a reconstituted self-image and its consequential meaning. Those individuals who concede to the diagnosis must commit themselves to a recovery program that will never ultimately achieve what it suggests. A commitment is required not to their own rehabilitation but to the will of GA, a force that relies on the power of group persuasion for its very continuance. These are the driving elements behind such a self-help group, as well as a professed desire to help individuals shed themselves of an invisible disease that has in fact been constructed by the larger society, and which is shared by those individuals or groups of individuals who do not conform or appear to threaten such norms. A passage through the stages of the medical model is outlined and the reader can identify with several important roles within this journey in search of a new self a self portrayed by GA members as an "ideal type, " one for which they all apparently strive.

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