As a certified gambling counselor, I’ve often been asked how to stop gambling. Some individuals just want to save money, realizing they have been spending too much on gambling. Others are looking to completely stop gambling because they have lost control, and it is causing significant problems in their lives.
In this article, I provide seven ways to stop gambling and save money. I’ve developed these strategies over several years of working within a casino doing problem gambling prevention, helping people who are struggling with their gambling, in addition to working within a hospital setting, providing residential support to persons recovering from problem gambling.
Although gambling functions like any other addiction, there are some important distinctions to consider. Hopefully, this article helps you make sense of the unique features of problem gambling, in addition to providing some useful tools to help you gain back control.
If you are considering counseling, click here to learn more about my online services.
1. Let go of common gambling fallacies
Unlike other forms of addiction, gambling relies on the powerful force of random reinforcement. Rewards are distributed randomly, causing players to develop distorted thoughts regarding their level of control over the outcome. This is especially powerful if someone had an early big win.
Here are some common gambling myths and reasons why they are not true:
“I have a system for winning.”
This is an illusion of control. Although our minds are built to find patterns and predict outcomes, this is not helpful in the artificial world of gambling where outcomes are random. Seeking the need for coherence and understanding, we develop rigid rationalizations, trying to make sense of the outcomes. We may feel like we have a system, but outcomes in casino gambling are random.
“It is due to pay out soon.”
This is a form of false hope. For slot machines, and several other forms of electronic gaming, outcomes are determined by a random number generator (RNG). It is a computer chip that automatically generates thousands of random number combinations every second and is always running, even when you are not playing. Hitting the “spin” button selects the random number it happens to be generating at that exact moment, converting it to a position on the reels. Therefore, it is never due to pay.
“If I keep playing, I can win my money back.”
This is another form of false hope based on the idea that hard work should ultimately pay off. Although this may be an adaptive rule in real life, it does not apply in the gambling world. Casino games are always configured to take more money than they give back. This is also known as the “house edge”.
Although outcomes are random, the amount of money you get for a win is less than the amount you spend on a loss. For example, it’s like betting $1 on a coin toss and only getting around $0.85 if you win. Since you’ll end up paying $1 roughly half the time and earning $0.85 roughly half the time, you can see how this is a losing game in the long-run. In casino gambling, the longer you play, the more you pay.
“I feel lucky today.”
This is the illusion of control, combined with false hope. Our intuitions may serve us well in everyday life, allowing us to sense subtle social cues and adjust our behaviours accordingly. In the world of gambling, intuition is more like a form of magical thinking.
Other forms of magical thinking include the use of good-luck charms, prayers, or rituals such as touching the machine in a certain way. If this is simply for entertainment purposes, it may be harmless, but if it is an attempt to control the outcome, it will merely lead to further disappointment in the long-term.
These gambling fallacies promise a sense of control and hope for a better future, but they are illusions that actually do the opposite. You may feel a false sense of control and hope in the short-term, at the expense of genuine control and hope in the long-term.
2. Decide if gambling is really worth it
Deciding to stop gambling ultimately comes down to whether or not gambling is worth it. Even if it’s not worth it monetarily, most people who have problems with gambling say it’s not about the money. You can recognize the financial downside, but still enjoy the sense of escape.
Here are some common reasons people continue gambling:
“Gambling makes me happier”
Even if you know you are spending more money than you are getting back, you may justify continued gambling based on its ability to make all of the world’s problems go away temporarily. Using gambling to escape is one of the most common forms of gambling, especially among those who use electronic games such as slot machines.
Although many people in the early stages of problematic gambling may believe it makes them happier, this illusion is often shattered when their lives become unmanageable. Gambling offers a false promise of happiness, just like it offers the false illusion of control and false hope for a better future. Genuine happiness can be built, only after letting go of the illusion provided by gambling.
“I can make money gambling”
I have heard this several times from persons who engage in professional forms of gambling where a significant amount of skill is involved. For example, tournament poker allows players to gain a slight mathematical edges on one another, making it a game of both skill and chance.
The first question I would ask is whether or not your gambling is actually profitable. Do you keep a balance sheet, closely tracking your wins and losses? Are you treating your gambling like a business? If so, and you are profitable, I would ask you this question: Is it worth it?
Let’s say you’re actually able to make a bit of money. Is this amount of money worth the roller-coaster of stress? Is it worth risking the relationships it is perhaps putting in jeopardy? Is it worth the constant lying, loss of integrity, and resulting low self-esteem?
What do you truly value in life? Is gambling getting you closer or further away from that?
“I’ll be bored if I stop gambling”
Many people looking for gambling support can’t imagine their lives without it. By this point, gambling often becomes a full-time job. Spending so much time gambling, other hobbies and interests go by the wayside. In my years talking to patrons who frequently visit the casino, one of the most common reasons to continue gambling is that there is nothing else to do.
Although gambling may feel like the only form of leisure activity currently, I’ve seen many people adjust to an enjoyable life outside gambling. It may take some brainstorming at first, but given time, it is possible to rekindle old hobbies and find new fulfilling activities to engage in.
This fear of boredom is common in all addictions, so if you’re interested in learning more, check out my article 16 Reasons Being Sober Is Worth It. Many of the lessons apply to gambling as well.
3. Self-exclude or use a gambling blocker
This is another area unique to gambling addiction. Unlike bars and liquor stores, you can ban yourself from casinos and block yourself from gambling sites. This has actually been a significant part of my role within casinos. When someone decides they want to ban themselves (self-exclude) from a casino, there is a process to sign themselves out while receiving emotional support and information on treatment resources.
GameSense is a larger North American organization dedicated to this form of support. Since I’m familiar with the North American system, I will just speak to my understanding of the process in this context. Also, procedures may vary depending on the casino.
Larger venues owned by major chains often have sophisticated facial recognition software. When signing yourself out, your photo is taken and entered into the system, alerting security if you enter. Recently, I’ve witnessed considerable gains in the accuracy of this facial recognition software.
Self-exclusion provides an immediate deterrent, allowing someone to form new habits. Unfortunately, gambling is now everywhere. Many people who cannot enter the casino may take up gambling online. One helpful application that provides an online version of self-exclusion is Bet Blocker. This is an app that blocks all gambling-related content and can be installed on your computer or mobile phone.
4. Replace gambling with other activities
Once you’ve decided to commit to changing your habits, it is important to consider healthy replacements for gambling. Since gambling can take up a significant amount of one’s time, self-excluding can often result in boredom, fuelling the desire to return to gambling.
Consider the things you used to do before gambling took over. If these activities are no longer appropriate, consider trying new activities or learning a new skill. If you’re interested in learning something new, I recommend checking out sites like Skillshare. With thousands of classes to choose from, this online community allows you to gain new skills, network with peers, and find new opportunities. Check out their free trial here.
*As an affiliate partner with Skillshare, I receive a commission if you sign up for a free trial.
5. Identify your gambling triggers
Identifying your gambling triggers means noticing the people, places, and things that make you automatically desire gambling. This may be a specific group of friends, a particular route on your drive, or having access to a particular device.
Many people who regularly visit a gambling venue form friendships around their shared interest in gambling. Although this may be a healthy form of social connection for some, it can be unhealthy for others who feel trapped in patterns of gambling. It becomes even more problematic when people begin loaning money or asking for loans.
Gambling venues have their own internal culture and networks of regular visitors, providing a sense of belonging. It is crucial to notice when the people you surround yourself with are not aligned with your values. If you find yourself lending money to others, it could be helpful to determine if this is a form of co-dependency. To learn more, check out my article, When Does Helping Become Enabling?
When it comes to places that might be triggering, consider where you are when you feel the urge to gamble. Is this along a specific part of your drive? Is this during a particular part of your day? Many people find it helpful to take new routes home or include social supports in specific aspects of their day when they regularly feel the strongest desire to gamble.
Lastly, consider the specific things in your life that trigger gambling. For some people, this may mean getting a non-smartphone or a phone without access to the internet. Since gambling is now accessible everywhere, merely having a smartphone can be a strong trigger in early recovery. If taking a break from your device is not feasible, perhaps it could mean blocking or deleting certain apps.
6. Uncover what’s driving your gambling
As stated earlier, when gambling becomes an addiction, it is often no longer about the money. Gambling is often used as a way to escape from deeper issues such as stress, anxiety, pain, boredom, or loneliness.
Consider any unmet needs and how gambling is serving as a temporary solution at a long-term cost, taking you further away from actually meeting these needs.
To learn more about these unmet needs, check out my recent article: What Are Our Underlying Needs?
In that article, I delve into the six underlying needs driving addictive forms of coping, offering tips on how to meet these needs more effectively, in addition to providing further resources.
7. Seek gambling-specific counseling
If you want to gain back control over your gambling, reaching out for support significantly increases your odds of success. Various mental health and addiction professionals may be helpful, but many people do not realize there are dedicated gambling counselors who specialize in this specific area.
If you are starting to think gambling is no longer worth it, I am currently accepting new clients. I can only accept a limited number of clients, so if you’re ready to make some important changes, send me a message below.
If you are considering counseling, click here to learn more about my online services.