Problem Gambling and Women who Embezzle.

Women in the United States are developing problem gambling, which sometimes reaches the level of Pathological Gambling, a diagnosable mental disorder at rapidly increasing rates. Recent research efforts have increased the understanding of the psychology of problem gambling, including the roles played by depression and anxiety, personality variables, cognitions and biological factors. According to Toneatto and Millar (2004), research results have indicated that there is a correlation between problem gambling and depressive symptoms, symptoms of anxiety and obsessive compulsiveness and impulsivity. Research focused on gender differences (Grant and Kim, 2003) suggests, “Women are more triggered to gamble by feelings of loneliness and dysphoria (depression) as compared with men. Further, women’s motivations for gambling include escape from personal or family problems, whereas men gamble more for excitement and to win money.”

There is some evidence that women who develop gambling problems are more likely to be living with someone with a gambling or drinking problem, but to have fewer alcohol and legal problems themselves (Ladd and Petry, 2002). In addition, a 2009 research study (Afifi, Brownridge, MacMillan and Sareen) suggests that the presence of marital violence is “associated with higher rates of gambling.” Lesieur and Blume (1991) hypothesize that gambling may be a very specific activity that women use to deal with, especially distract themselves, from marital abuse. Further, a study by Scannell (2000) indicates that, “Women employ more emotion-focused coping strategies such as avoidance and self-blame, which in turn lead to reduced control over gambling behavior.”

Although findings are still preliminary, some research has also begun to identify biological factors involved in pathological gambling. Specifically, research suggests that there are genetic factors indicating some familial hereditability of problem gambling behavior. Biological research has also indicated that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex may be involved in decision-making regarding pathological gambling. In addition the orbital frontal cortex may be involved “in the processing of rewards during the expectancy and experiencing of monetary gains or losses” (Toneatto and Millar, 2004). There are additional neuropsychological findings which suggest that there may be a neurotransmitter dysfunction involved in the development of pathological gambling which can be treated with the use of pharmacological agents (Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (CBASSE) 1999.)

Problem gambling is also sometimes a factor for women who embezzle funds from their employer. During the last several years, I have evaluated 18 women charged with embezzlement, ten facing Federal charges and seven in State Court. We have just begun to analyze our data, but a number of patterns appear to stand out. Unlike other female criminal defendants, almost none of these women had previous criminal charges, drug/alcohol problems or major mental illness other than depression, anxiety and PTSD. A significant number were motivated by “higher loyalties,” primarily related to meeting a variety of needs of their families (e.g., shelter, medical care) or responding to direct requests or indirect pressure from a male partner, spouse or boyfriend (none of whom were indicted) in order to preserve that relationship. Two other relevant motivational factors have emerged in this group of women charged with embezzlement: their involvement in problem gambling and the behavior of compulsive spending, often to purchase items and pleasurable activities (e.g., vacations) for themselves and their families to distract themselves from psychological problems and distress. Even though relationship problems were not as predominant in these women, they were often in the background. In all of the cases of women charged with embezzlement, results of the forensic psychological evaluation were used either for plea negotiations, sentencing or both.


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