How to Stop Gambling and Regain Control of Your Life
It can happen to anyone from any walk of life: Your gambling goes from a fun, harmless diversion to an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino, at the track, or online—a gambling problem can strain your relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial disaster. You may even do things you never thought you would, like running up huge debts or even stealing money to gamble. Although it can feel like you’re unable to stop, there are plenty of things you can do to overcome a gambling problem, repair your relationships and finances, and finally regain control of your life.
- 1 What is gambling addiction and problem gambling?
- 2 Gambling addiction signs and symptoms
- 3 Self-help for gambling problems
- 4 How to stop gambling for good
- 5 Dealing with gambling cravings
- 6 Gambling addiction treatment
- 7 How to help someone stop gambling
- 8 SMART Recovery ®: Self-Help for Independence from Problem Gambling
- 9 Change your thinking, change your gambling problem
- 10 What do addictions have in common?
- 11 How do you change your thinking about gambling?
- 12 Studies that support this method
What is gambling addiction and problem gambling?
Gambling addiction—also known as—pathological gambling, compulsive gambling or gambling disorder—is an impulse-control disorder. If you’re a compulsive gambler, you can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when it has negative consequences for you or your loved ones. You’ll gamble whether you’re up or down, broke or flush, and you’ll keep gambling regardless of the consequences—even when you know that the odds are against you or you can’t afford to lose.
Of course, you can also have a gambling problem without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behavior that disrupts your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences in your life, you have a gambling problem.
A gambling addiction or problem is often associated with other behavior or mood disorders. Many problem gamblers also suffer with substance abuse issues, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. To overcome your gambling problems, you’ll also need to address these and any other underlying causes as well. The first step is to separate the myths from the facts about gambling problems:
|Myths & Facts about Gambling Problems|
Myth: You have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler. Fact: A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
Myth: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it. Fact: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
Myth: Having a gambling problem is just a case of being weak-willed, irresponsible, or unintelligent. Fact: Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
Myth: Partners of problem gamblers often drive their loved ones to gamble. Fact: Problem gamblers often try to rationalize their behavior. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
Myth: If a problem gambler builds up a debt, you should help them take care of it. Fact: Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling their gambling problems to continue.
Gambling addiction signs and symptoms
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as a “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers also typically deny or minimize the problem—even to themselves. However, you may have a gambling problem if you:
Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you gamble, feeling others won’t understand or that you will surprise them with a big win.
Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
Gamble even when you don’t have the money. You may gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, and then move on to money you don’t have—money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money.
Have family and friends worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older gamblers are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they’ve gambled away their inheritance, but it’s never too late to make changes for the better.
Self-help for gambling problems
The biggest step to overcoming a gambling addiction is realizing that you have a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to own up to this, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way. Don’t despair, and don’t try to go it alone. Many others have been in your shoes and have been able to break the habit and rebuild their lives. You can, too.
Learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways. Do you gamble when you’re lonely or bored? Or after a stressful day at work or following an argument with your spouse? Gambling may be a way to self-soothe unpleasant emotions, unwind, or socialize. But there are healthier and more effective ways of managing your moods and relieving boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up new hobbies, or practicing relaxation techniques.
Strengthen your support network. It’s tough to battle any addiction without support, so reach out to friends and family. If your support network is limited, there are ways to make new friends without relying on visiting casinos or gambling online. Try reaching out to colleagues at work, joining a sports team or book club, enrolling in an education class, or volunteering for a good cause.
Join a peer support group. Gamblers Anonymous, for example, is a twelve-step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. A key part of the program is finding a sponsor, a former gambler who has experience remaining free from addiction and can provide you invaluable guidance and support.
Seek help for underlying mood disorders. Depression, stress, substance abuse, or anxiety can both trigger gambling problems and be made worse by compulsive gambling. Even when gambling is no longer a part of your life, these problems will still remain, so it’s important to address them.
How to stop gambling for good
For many problem gamblers, it’s not quitting gambling that’s the biggest challenge, but rather staying in recovery—making a permanent commitment to stay away from gambling. The Internet has made gambling far more accessible and, therefore, harder for recovering addicts to avoid relapse. Online casinos and bookmakers are open all day, every day for anyone with a smartphone or access to a computer. But maintaining recovery from gambling addiction or problem gambling is still possible if you surround yourself with people to whom you’re accountable, avoid tempting environments and websites, give up control of your finances (at least at first), and find healthier activities to replace gambling in your life.
Making healthier choices
One way to stop gambling is to remove the elements necessary for gambling to occur in your life and replace them with healthier choices. The four elements needed for gambling to continue are:
A decision: For gambling to happen, you need to make the decision to gamble. If you have an urge: stop what you are doing and call someone, think about the consequences to your actions, tell yourself to stop thinking about gambling, and find something else to do immediately.
Money: Gambling cannot occur without money. Get rid of your credit cards, let someone else be in charge of your money, have the bank make automatic payments for you, close online betting accounts, and keep only a limited amount of cash on you.
Time: Even online gambling cannot occur if you don’t have the time. Schedule enjoyable recreational time for yourself that has nothing to do with gambling. If you’re gambling on your smartphone, find other ways to fill the quiet moments during your day.
A game: Without a game or activity to bet on there is no opportunity to gamble. Don’t put yourself in tempting environments. Tell gambling establishments you frequent that you have a gambling problem and ask them to restrict you from entering. Remove gambling apps and block gambling sites on your smartphone and computer.
Finding alternatives to gambling
Maintaining recovery from gambling addiction depends a lot on finding alternative behaviors you can substitute for gambling. Some examples include:
|Reason for gambling||Sample substitute behaviors|
|To provide excitement, get a rush of adrenaline||Sport or a challenging hobby, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, or Go Kart racing|
|To be more social, overcome shyness or isolation||Counseling, enroll in a public speaking class, join a social group, connect with family and friends, volunteer, find new friends|
|To numb unpleasant feelings, not think about problems||Try therapy or use HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence toolkit|
|Boredom or loneliness||Find something you’re passionate about such as art, music, sports, or books and then find others with the same interests|
|To relax after a stressful day||As little as 15 minutes of daily exercise can relieve stress. Or deep breathing, meditation, or massage|
|To solve money problems||The odds are always stacked against you so it’s far better to seek help with debts from a credit counselor|
Dealing with gambling cravings
Feeling the urge to gamble is normal, but as you build healthier choices and a strong support network, resisting cravings will become easier. When a gambling craving strikes:
Avoid isolation. Call a trusted family member, meet a friend for coffee, or go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.
Postpone gambling. Tell yourself that you’ll wait 5 minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour. As you wait, the urge to gamble may pass or become weak enough to resist.
Visualize what will happen if you give in to the urge to gamble. Think about how you’ll feel after all your money is gone and you’ve disappointed yourself and your family again.
Distract yourself with another activity, such as going to the gym, watching a movie, or practicing a relaxation exercise for gambling cravings.
Coping with lapses
If you aren’t able to resist the gambling craving, don’t be too hard on yourself or use it as an excuse to give up. Overcoming a gambling addiction is a tough process. You may slip from time to time; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and continue working towards recovery.
Gambling addiction treatment
Overcoming a gambling problem is never easy and seeking professional treatment doesn’t mean that you’re weak in some way or can’t handle your problems. But it’s important to remember that every gambler is unique so you need a recovery program tailored specifically to your needs and situation. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about different treatment options, including:
Inpatient or residential treatment and rehab programs. These are aimed at those with severe gambling addiction who are unable to avoid gambling without round-the-clock support.
Treatment for underlying conditions contributing to your compulsive gambling, including substance abuse or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, OCD, or ADHD. This could include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Problem gambling can sometimes be a symptom of bipolar disorder, so your doctor or therapist may need to rule this out before making a diagnosis.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT for gambling addiction focuses on changing unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts, such as rationalizations and false beliefs. It can also teach you how to fight gambling urges and solve financial, work, and relationship problems caused by problem gambling. Therapy can provide you with the tools for coping with your addiction that will last a lifetime.
Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling. These can help you work through the specific issues that have been created by your problem gambling and lay the foundation for repairing your relationships and finances.
How to help someone stop gambling
If your loved one has a gambling problem, you likely have many conflicting emotions. You may have spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep your loved one from gambling or having to cover for them. At the same time, you might be furious at your loved one for gambling again and tired of trying to keep up the charade. Your loved one may have borrowed or even stolen money with no way to pay it back. They may have sold family possessions or run up huge debts on joint credit cards.
While compulsive and problem gamblers need the support of their family and friends to help them in their struggle to stop gambling, the decision to quit has to be theirs. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is seeing the effects, you cannot make someone stop gambling. However, you can encourage them to seek help, support them in their efforts, protect yourself, and take any talk of suicide seriously.
Preventing suicide in problem gamblers
When faced with the consequences of their actions, problem gamblers can suffer a crushing drop in self-esteem. This is one reason why there is a high rate of suicide among compulsive gamblers. If you suspect your loved one is feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. at 1-800-273-8255 or visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a suicide helpline in your country.
Four tips for family members:
- Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don’t blame yourself for the gambler’s problems or let his or her addiction dominate your life. Ignoring your own needs can be a recipe for burnout.
- Don’t go it alone. It can feel so overwhelming coping with a loved one’s gambling addiction that it may seem easier to rationalize their requests “this one last time.” Or you might feel ashamed, feeling like you are the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will make you realize that many families have struggled with this problem.
- Set boundaries in managing money. To ensure the gambler stays accountable and to prevent relapse, consider taking over the family finances. However, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gambler’s impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
- Consider how you will handle requests for money. Problem gamblers often become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. They may use pleading, manipulation, or even threats to get it. It takes practice to ensure you are not enabling your loved one’s gambling addiction.
|Do’s and Don’ts for partners of problem gamblers|
|Source: Dept. of Health & Addiction Services|
1. Take a Short Break
When you wake up, make a decision that you will not gamble, just for this one day. If you have to do this an hour at a time, that is okay. Some might have to work one minute at a time, which is fine too, as long as you promise yourself that you will not gamble, and you keep the promise. Schedule your day in a very structured way so you do not have a lot of free time. Forbid yourself from entering a casino, downloading online gaming apps, or visiting gaming websites.
2. Find a Replacement Activity
Find something to replace your gambling. Exercise, go shopping, go out with friends, or do some cooking. You can also rent a movie, listen to some music, or do some reading — do whatever it takes to keep yourself busy. You could pick up a new, exciting hobby, like bike racing or climbing or welding.
Your goal is to stop gambling, and it is not easy when you get such a high from it. Finding replacements, however, can help. Try and see how it goes.
3. Remember How Bad It Feels to Lose
Remember the feeling when you lose a lot of money at the casino, online, or through sports betting. Allow yourself to feel that despondency when you are having thoughts about gambling again. You may find that you are less likely to go out and place a bet. I have done this before, and must admit that these feelings have stopped me from taking that ride to the casino. This hasn’t worked every time, but many times this tool has helped.
4. Educate Yourself About Gambling Addiction
Read as much as you can about gambling addiction. Educate yourself, especially about your particular type of gambling. Find out what type of gambler you are and whether you have a gambling problem and have crossed over this invisible line. Are you an escape or an action gambler? Find out what some of your triggers are, as this can help a lot. When you read about gambling addiction, especially the power that it can have on your psyche, you may think twice about going out and placing a bet.
The resources at the end of this article may be of some help to you.
5. Find Self-Help Materials
Seek help. Look for books or courses. Self-hypnosis for gambling problems can also be helpful. Consider joining an online gambling addiction forum. Even if you do not join, reading other people’s stories may help you realize that you are not alone. It is crucial that you realize that you are not the only person with this problem. Many share your plight and are looking for answers and support from other gamblers.
Again, there are resources at the bottom of this article that may be of some help to you.
6. Find a Support Group
Attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting for group support. If you do not want to do a 12-Step program, there is an online program called Smart Recovery. Having support from other gamblers who also want to quit is an important piece of your recovery. Just talking about gambling with other people who understand what you’re going through can be really helpful.
7. Hand Over Control of Your Money
Ask a close family member to handle your money. If you do not have money on your person, you will be less apt to impulsively gamble money away. It will be hard, but it is an important step in your recovery. Also, do not allow yourself access to ATM or credit cards. Just keep a small amount of cash with you, so you cannot spend the money gambling.
8. List the Cons of Gambling and the Pros of Quitting
Make a list about how your gambling problem has affected your life in a negative way. Write as much as you can. Make the list on the left side of a sheet of paper so you have room on the right side. On the right side, write about how your life will change for the better when you stop gambling.
9. Make a Financial Plan
Talk to a debt counselor about your gambling debts. Ask for advice about how to relieve financial pressure and solve financial problems caused by your gambling. The financial stress that you have from gambling addiction debts can drive you back to gambling if not addressed. Financial problems are the biggest consequence of gambling, and help is available. Be sure to use a non-profit debt assistance agency, and not one that is for-profit.
10. Get a Good Counselor
See a counselor that specializes in addictions, especially gambling, and talk to this person about your problem. If your addiction is severe, you will need as much support as you can get to stop gambling now.
11. Get Help for Underlying Mood Disorders
Many people with a gambling problem also suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, or other substance abuse issues. These can both trigger compulsive gambling as well as make it worse.
12. Get in the Right Environment
Surround yourself with people that you trust who want to see you recover and avoid any kind of environment where you might be tempted to gamble, which could be anything from a casino, to being at home alone with your smartphone. Delete gambling apps from your phone and tell casinos that you have a problem and that you want them to block you from entering.
Some Final Thoughts
Gambling is a dangerous addictions because of the related risk of suicide. Find help now and make a plan to begin quitting. Take it one day, or hour, at a time and keep in mind how great you will feel when you have come clean and stopped gambling with your life.
Submitted by bjmd on Wed, 04/24/2013 – 17:46
I’ve been gambling online now for almost three years. I started gambling online when the 2010 World Cup was on, and ever since then I’ve mainly focused on football gambling.
However, the three years that I’ve gambled, I’ve lost an awful lot of money. I’m not in any debt, and thankfully I have no regular expenses to my name, other than car insurance costs and my mobile phone bill. But right now, I really don’t much savings left, and that’s largely because I’ve kept digging myself a hole, all the while thinking I could overcome my losses, or starting afresh and eventually losing control again.
So today, I’m trying to take the step towards completely ending my addiction to gambling online. I’ve self-excluded myself from bet365, which I had been using regularly for the last 6 months. I’ve already self-excluded myself from other websites, most notably betfair, where I had lost most of my money. It was in fact over a year ago when I did so – but in the end I simply switched betting company.
Now however, I’m willing to end it once and for all. I really need to do so, because it is having a detrimental effect on me, my personality and my habits.
I guess the help I need is as follows;
1. The biggest problem for me is how I will now fill the hole in my life because of all the time I have spent on a daily basis devoted to gambling (researching what to bet on, and so on). I would really appreciate suggestions.
2. Does anybody have any advice on what I should concentrate on doing for the next few weeks to ease the temptation to gamble again? Does annybody have any methods to try and stave off the temptation?
Thanks for reading, and hopefully you can help me overcome my addiction and problem.
SMART Recovery ®: Self-Help for Independence from Problem Gambling
By Rich Dowling, MA, LPC, MAC
Are you finding yourself asking, “Why do I gamble so much? And how can I stop?” You are not alone.
Compulsive gambling and pathological gambling are growing problems in the United States. Casinos, lotteries, and the availability of bookies are easier, faster, and more widespread. Internet gambling impact reaches far and wide. The good news is that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) based Professional Treatment and Self-Help models such as SMART Recovery
(Self-Management and Recovery Training) can be very helpful for gaining independence from addictions, including problem gambling.
Change your thinking, change your gambling problem
SMART Recovery is an abstinence based, self-reliance model founded on the idea that people generally feel and behave the way they think, with thinking being the one thing over which humans have most control. Therefore, with determination and persistence, people can change the way they feel and behave by changing their thinking. The mission of SMART Recovery is to assist individuals with their desire to gain independence from addictions in general through a change in their thinking about activities such as problem gambling, the common theme in addictive behavior being “irrational beliefs” (iBs).
What do addictions have in common?
I have facilitated SMART Recovery meetings attended by individuals desiring to gain independence from various problematic behaviors involving alcohol and other drugs, eating disorders and problem gambling. Some people have expressed concern they could not relate to the other issues only to find, as the meeting progressed, there was indeed common ground, resulting in similar emotional distress. Anxiety, depression, anger, guilt and shame are common “unhealthy emotions” experienced by people addicted to one or more substances and or activities.
How do you change your thinking about gambling?
The “ABCs” of REBT (rebtorg) method of solving problems (listed below as part of SMART’s 4 Point Program) is used as an effective formula for enhancing emotions and changing behavior. SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program® offers scientifically based tools and techniques to assist an individual with:
1. Enhancing motivation to abstain from offending substances and problematic behaviors
2. Coping with urges without acting on them
3. Solving problems in a reasonable way (using ABCs of REBT)
4. Balancing immediate desires and long-term goals. (See SMART Recovery website)
One tool in particular that relates to addictive activities (offered in The SMART Recovery Handbook) is the Cost/Benefit Analysis (CBA) Worksheet. The CBA can enhance an individual’s motivation to reduce problem behaviors by encouraging them to list the benefits of “Doing or Using;” the negative consequences of “Doing or Using;” the benefits of “NOT Doing or Using;” and the negative consequences of “NOT Doing or Using.”
One unique aspect of SMART Recovery is the individual is not “labeled” as an “Addict,” “Criminal,” or “Compulsive Gambler;” rather, it is the specific behavior that is identified with statements such as: The individual has committed a crime or gambles compulsively. So in reality, SMART Recovery is an empowerment program, encouraging participants to rate and judge individual behaviors, characteristics and experiences rather than their whole “being and essence” while having a sense of self-worth …simply by the fact they exist. This approach lessens the possibility of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Studies that support this method
SMART Recovery’s potential effectiveness for assisting individuals to find relief from addictions including compulsive/pathological gambling is supported by research. While attending the National Center for Responsible Gambling Conference, co-sponsored by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions and the Gaming Industry, I was introduced to research clearly showing CBT to be an effective model for assisting individuals interested in reducing problem gambling. Studies also show a correlation between alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, as well as gambling. Problematic gambling can also lead to more destructive actions such as criminal behavior (i.e., embezzlement) and, possibly, suicide.
If you have a problem with gambling or any other addiction, check out SMART Recovery, consider obtaining a SMART Recovery Handbook, attending a community group available in your area, or sit in on an Online SMART Recovery Group. Or contact SMART Recovery headquarters with questions, comments or to get assistance with starting a SMART Recovery Group.
Rich Dowling is a founding board member and Volunteer Advisor for SMART Recovery. He is owner of The Thought Exchange: Center for Personal Achievment, specializing in assisting individuals gain independence from addictions and create a healthier, happier, more satisfying lifestyle. Change Your Thinking, Enhance Your Life! ®