How to Stop Gambling Addiction

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

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.

In short, overcoming gambling addiction requires addressing underlying emotional pain, limiting access to gambling triggers, replacing it with healthier activities, managing cravings, gaining peer support, controlling finances, and using behavioral therapies to develop effective coping skills.

Let’s delve into each of these areas and explore specific ways you can identify and overcome gambling addiction.

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.

Limit Access to Gambling

One of the first steps in overcoming gambling addiction is to limit your exposure to gambling activities and the triggers that fuel your addiction. By identifying and avoiding these triggers, you can significantly reduce the risk of relapse and maintain your commitment to recovery.

Identifying and avoiding common triggers

Each person’s gambling triggers may differ, but some common ones include stress, boredom, loneliness, and financial pressures. Make a list of your triggers and devise a plan to address them in healthier ways. For example, if stress is a trigger, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or yoga.

Blocking access to online gambling websites and apps

Online gambling platforms are easily accessible and can exacerbate your addiction. To minimize the temptation, use website blockers or apps to restrict access to gambling sites on your devices. Additionally, unsubscribe from gambling-related emails and promotional messages.

Restricting visits to gambling establishments

Avoid visiting casinos, betting shops, and other gambling venues. If you have a favorite establishment, consider contacting them to request self-exclusion. This will make it more difficult for you to gamble there, as the staff will be alerted to refuse your entry.

Setting boundaries with friends who gamble

If you have friends who gamble, it’s essential to set boundaries and communicate your desire to stop gambling. Ask them not to invite you to gambling-related activities and to be mindful of discussing their gambling experiences around you. If necessary, distance yourself from friends who don’t respect your boundaries.

Limit Access to Funds

Taking control of your finances is a crucial aspect of overcoming gambling addiction. By limiting your access to funds for gambling, you can reduce the risk of relapse and promote responsible money management.

Creating a budget and tracking expenses

Develop a budget that accounts for your income, expenses, and savings goals. Track your spending to ensure you’re sticking to your budget and to identify any areas where you may need to make adjustments.

Involving a trusted person in managing finances

Consider involving a trusted friend or family member in managing your finances. They can help you monitor your spending, ensure you’re adhering to your budget, and provide accountability for your financial decisions.

Using cash instead of credit cards and avoiding cash advances

Limit your access to credit by using cash for daily expenses and avoiding cash advances on credit cards. This can help you stay within your budget and reduce the temptation to gamble with borrowed money.

Implementing self-exclusion programs with gambling establishments

Many gambling establishments offer self-exclusion programs that allow you to voluntarily ban yourself from their premises or online platforms. By participating in these programs, you can limit your access to gambling opportunities and reduce the risk of relapse.

Replace Gambling with Other Activities

Replacing gambling with healthier activities can help fill the void left by your addiction and provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Discovering new hobbies and interests

Explore new hobbies and interests that can bring joy and satisfaction to your life. Consider activities like cooking, gardening, painting, or learning a musical instrument. Trying new things can also help you discover hidden talents and passions.

Engaging in physical activities and sports

Physical activities are not only beneficial for your physical health but also for your mental well-being. Exercise releases endorphins, which can help combat stress and improve mood. Consider joining a gym, participating in group sports, or even taking daily walks in nature.

Participating in social events and community activities

Socializing can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and boredom, which can trigger gambling. Attend local events, join clubs or organizations, or volunteer in your community to meet new people and develop meaningful connections.

Pursuing creative outlets and personal development

Expressing yourself creatively can provide an emotional release and help you cope with the challenges of recovery. Engage in creative pursuits such as writing, painting, or photography. Additionally, focus on personal development by setting goals, learning new skills, or attending workshops and seminars.

Manage Cravings and Urges

Cravings and urges to gamble are common during the recovery process. Learning how to manage these feelings is crucial for maintaining your progress and avoiding relapse.

Recognizing the early signs of cravings

Awareness is key in managing cravings. Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions, and recognize the early signs of a craving, such as restlessness, irritability, or increased heart rate. By acknowledging these feelings, you can take proactive steps to address them.

Implementing mindfulness techniques and meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and cultivate a sense of calm. Practice mindfulness by focusing on the present moment, without judgment, and learn to observe your cravings without acting on them. Meditation, even just a few minutes a day, can improve your ability to cope with cravings.

Utilizing the four D’s: delay, distract, decide, and de-stress

The four D’s can help you manage cravings effectively:

Delay: When a craving arises, wait before acting on it. Cravings often pass or weaken with time.
Distract: Engage in an activity that takes your mind off gambling, such as calling a friend, going for a walk, or engaging in a hobby.
Decide: Remind yourself of the reasons you want to stop gambling and the negative consequences of relapse.
De-stress: Practice relaxation techniques or engage in self-care activities to alleviate stress.

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 it

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.

Seek Treatment and Support

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.

Joining support groups

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.

Sharing your struggle with trusted friends and family

Opening up to trusted friends and family members can provide emotional support and help keep you accountable in your recovery. Be honest about your struggles, and ask for their understanding and encouragement.

Finding a sponsor or accountability partner

A sponsor or accountability partner is someone who has successfully overcome gambling addiction and can offer guidance, support, and practical advice. They can help you navigate the challenges of recovery and provide an empathetic ear when you need it most.

Attending therapy and counseling sessions

Professional therapy and counseling can help you address the psychological factors contributing to your addiction and provide personalized strategies for managing cravings and triggers.

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.

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.

Heal Underlying Issues

As an addiction counselor specializing in gambling addiction, my approach to working with clients focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying emotional pain that drives their addiction. Inspired by Dr. Gabor Maté’s perspective on addiction, I believe that understanding and healing the source of this pain is fundamental to the recovery process. By integrating this perspective with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), I aim to guide clients towards a more fulfilling life.

Building a trusting therapeutic relationship
The first step in this process is establishing a safe, non-judgmental, and empathetic therapeutic relationship with the client. This foundation allows clients to feel comfortable sharing their experiences, emotions, and vulnerabilities, which is crucial for uncovering the roots of their addiction.

Exploring the emotional pain
Following Gabor Maté’s perspective, I guide clients in exploring their emotional pain by asking open-ended questions that encourage reflection on past experiences, relationships, and traumas. This exploration may involve discussing family dynamics, childhood experiences, attachment patterns, and any other factors that may have contributed to their emotional distress.

Identifying the function of gambling addiction
Once we have a better understanding of the client’s emotional pain, we work together to identify how gambling addiction has served as a short-term coping mechanism to deal with that pain. This process may involve examining the feelings, thoughts, and situations that trigger the urge to gamble and exploring how gambling provides temporary relief from emotional pain.

Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
With a clearer understanding of the client’s emotional pain and the role of gambling addiction in their lives, I integrate ACT principles into our sessions. ACT emphasizes six core processes: acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values, and committed action.

Acceptance: I guide clients to accept their emotional pain without judgment and recognize that it is a natural human experience. By embracing their emotions, clients can learn to respond to them in healthier ways that don’t necessary need to result in escapism through gambling.

Cognitive defusion: Clients are encouraged to distance themselves from unhelpful thoughts and beliefs associated with their gambling addiction. This process helps clients view their thoughts as temporary experiences rather than absolute truths.

Being present: Clients are taught to focus on the present moment and develop mindfulness skills to better cope with emotional pain and cravings.

Self as context: I help clients understand that their addiction does not define who they are, allowing them to develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with themselves.

Values: Together, we explore the client’s core values and identify how their gambling addiction conflicts with these values. This exploration serves as a foundation for setting meaningful goals and guiding the recovery process.

Committed action: Clients are supported in taking steps towards their values-aligned goals, replacing gambling with healthier coping strategies and activities that provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

By integrating Dr. Gabor Maté’s perspective on emotional pain with the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, my approach aims to guide clients towards a deeper understanding of their addiction, ultimately empowering them to heal their emotional pain and lead a more authentic, values-driven life free from gambling.

Conclusion

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.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com. It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.


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2 Comments

  1. Jay A. J. Shuck

    Thank you for a thorough reference. Well done.

    Reply
    • Steve Rose

      Thanks, Jay! I just updated the article with even more tools and techniques, if you’re interested.

      Reply

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