As a Certified Gambling Counsellor, I’ve worked with many persons struggling to stop a gambling addiction. Although this form of addiction functions similarly to drugs and alcohol, there are some unique things to consider when trying to stop gambling.
Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling or gambling disorder is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the negative consequences it may have on an individual’s life. Gambling addiction can lead to a host of problems, including financial issues, relationship troubles, and even mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
The purpose of this article is to provide information on how to stop gambling addiction. I will discuss the causes of gambling addiction, identify the signs of gambling addiction, and provide information on treatment options and self-help strategies. By understanding the nature of gambling addiction and learning how to overcome it, individuals can take the first steps toward recovery.
Understand the Addiction
Gambling addiction develops when an individual becomes dependent on gambling as a form of thrill or escape from stress. The individual may begin to crave the feeling and seek out more opportunities to gamble. This can happen gradually, with the individual initially gambling for fun and eventually becoming dependent on it, causing more stress in the long-term.
Common triggers for gambling addiction include stress, boredom, and financial problems. Individuals may turn to gambling as a form of escapism or as a way to cope with these issues. However, it is important to note that not everyone who experiences these triggers will develop a gambling addiction.
Common signs of a gambling addiction include:
- Spending more time and money on gambling than intended
- Lying to family and friends about gambling habits
- Neglecting responsibilities in order to gamble
- Borrowing money to gamble or pay off gambling debts
- Using gambling as a way to escape problems
- Continuing to gamble despite negative consequences
If you want to learn more about the psychology of gambling addiction, you can see my article on the subject here.
Seek Professional Treatment
Treatment for gambling addiction typically involves a combination of behavioral therapy, medication (optional), and support groups.
Behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing the individual’s behavior and thoughts related to gambling. This can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps the individual identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors related to gambling.
To find a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern. As a counsellor specializing in gambling addiction, I also virtually support clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.
Medication is sometimes used to treat gambling addiction. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or other medications can help manage underlying mental health issues. However, it’s important to note that medication should only be used in conjunction with therapy and should not be used as a standalone treatment for gambling addiction. This is an area I typically do not focus on with clients and requires a proper assessment from a medical doctor.
Support groups can also be a valuable resource for individuals struggling with gambling addiction. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and support each other in their recovery. Some support groups are specific to gambling addiction, while others are for individuals with any type of addiction. Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is the most widely available form of peer support for gambling addiction. If you are interested in locating a meeting, you can find one near you on the Gamblers Anonymous website here.
It is important to understand that gambling addiction is a chronic condition, and relapses can occur. A comprehensive treatment plan that may include therapy, medication (optional), and support groups can help increase the chances of recovery.
If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, it is important to seek out professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in this area. They can provide guidance and support in identifying underlying reasons for the gambling addiction, managing triggers, as well as developing a plan for long-term recovery.
Use Self-Help Strategies
While seeking professional help is crucial, there are also self-help strategies that individuals can use to stop gambling addiction.
Setting limits on time and money spent on gambling is a key step in controlling the addiction. This can include setting a specific budget for gambling and creating a schedule for when and how often to gamble. Although setting limits is a useful form of harm reduction, it may not be a sustainable solution in the long-term. For more harm reduction approaches, see my article here.
When a gambling addiction is significantly progressed, it may be appropriate to temporarily give up control of one’s finances to a partner or trusted family member.
Finding alternative activities to replace gambling is another way to reduce the urge to gamble. This can include hobbies, exercise, or spending time with friends and family.
Identifying and avoiding triggers can help prevent relapses. This may include avoiding certain places, people, or situations that may trigger the urge to gamble.
Building a support system is also essential in overcoming gambling addiction. This includes seeking support from friends, family, and loved ones, as well as joining a support group specifically for gambling addiction. A support system can provide emotional support, encouragement, and accountability in the recovery process.
Notice Unhelpful Thoughts About Gambling
Gambling relies on unpredictable rewards. This leads players to develop false beliefs about their control over the outcome. Common misconceptions include: “I have a system for winning,” “It is due to pay out soon,” and “If I keep playing, I can win my money back,” and “I’ll stop when I win the jackpot.” The gambling industry relies on a “house edge” to make a profit, meaning the odds are stacked against you, in the long term. The more you play, the more you will spend.
Someone with a gambling addiction may want to stop gambling when they are ahead but this does not happen. Like any addiction, increased access to the drug only increases the odds of using more. Imagine someone trying to stop drinking alcohol and they are given a giant fridge of their favorite drink. For someone with a gambling addiction, money is the drug. More money only leads to more betting.
It is also hard to stop while ahead due to the powerful force of random reinforcement. Gambling rewards are distributed randomly, which can cause individuals to develop distorted thoughts about their level of control over the outcome. This is especially powerful if someone had an early big win. The feeling of control, sense of specialness, and the rush of winning can be addictive, causing the person to continue gambling in the hopes of winning again. This can be called, “chasing the win.”
Rather than stopping when you are ahead, persons with a gambling addiction lack control over the activity, leading to continued gambling, often at higher amounts. This can lead to a cycle of spending more money than they win, making it difficult to stop gambling even when they are in financial trouble.
This often turns into “chasing the loss.” This is a common behavior among people with a gambling addiction. It refers to the tendency to continue gambling in an attempt to recoup losses. This behavior can lead to an endless cycle of losing and trying to win back lost money, causing the individual to spend more and more money in the long-term.
Decide if Gambling is Worth the Stress
Ultimately, the decision to quit gambling comes down to whether or not it is worth the cost. Many individuals who struggle with gambling say it’s not just about the money, it’s about the impact on one’s mental health and relationships.
Here are a few reasons why some people continue to gamble, and why these reasons may not necessarily be accurate:
“Gambling brings me happiness”
Even if a person recognizes that they are spending more money than they are earning, they may continue gambling because it temporarily makes their problems disappear. This is a common reason for gambling, particularly among those who participate in electronic games such as slot machines.
While gambling may seem to bring happiness in the early stages, this illusion is often shattered when the person’s life becomes unmanageable. Gambling offers a false sense of happiness, similar to the false sense of control and false hope for a better future. True happiness can only be attained by letting go of the illusion provided by gambling.
“I can make money through gambling”
Many people who engage in professional forms of gambling, such as tournament poker, believe they can make money through gambling because a significant amount of skill is involved. The question to ask is whether or not the gambling is actually profitable. Are you treating gambling like a business and keeping track of your wins and losses? If so, it’s important to ask yourself if it’s worth it.
Although making money in the long-term is unlikely, is any amount of money worth the stress, harm to relationships, and compromised integrity? It’s important to consider what truly matters in life and if gambling is getting you closer or further away from that.
“I’ll be bored if I stop gambling”
For some individuals, gambling has become a full-time job and they cannot imagine their lives without it. As a result, other hobbies and interests are neglected. One common reason for continuing to gamble is that there is nothing else to do.
While it may be difficult at first, it is possible to rekindle old hobbies and find new, fulfilling activities to engage in. With time and effort, a person can adjust to a life outside of gambling.
Ultimately, when gambling turns into an addiction, the costs outweigh the benefits. It becomes a highly stressful mental roller-coaster and you start to become someone you don’t even recognize. Losing a positive sense of one’s own identity, values, meaning, purpose, and close interpersonal relationships, gambling becomes the sole focus in life. Although it may have initially been a form of entertainment, it often ends up being the exact opposite.
Gambling addiction is a serious condition that can have a negative impact on an individual’s life. By understanding the causes of gambling addiction and identifying the signs, individuals can take the first steps towards recovery. Treatment options such as therapy, medication (optional), and support groups can provide the support and resources needed to overcome the addiction. In addition, self-help strategies such as setting limits, finding alternative activities, and building a support system can also be effective in the recovery process.
Recovery from gambling addiction is a journey that requires patience, determination, and support. It’s important to remember that recovery is possible and with the right help, individuals can regain control of their lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, it is important to seek help. There are resources available such as the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) which provides confidential help and support for individuals and their families. With the right help, individuals can overcome gambling addiction and take the first steps towards a healthier and happier life.
If I can support you in your journey toward recovery from gambling addiction, feel free to send me a message here.
Thank you for a thorough reference. Well done.