I think I’m addicted to gambling, what should I do now?

As with all addictions, problem gambling, also referred to as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, gambling disorder or syndrome, can start out as something you don’t recognize as being a problem. Before too long, however, the devastation it causes becomes apparent, your life can spiral downwards, and every aspect of it can be adversely affected; your finances, relationships, mental state of well-being and more. Once the problem is identified, it’s crucial that help is sought, because research shows that not only can it be controlled, but also prevented from getting worse or recurring in the future.

What is gambling addiction?

Social gambling is an accepted pastime which many people engage in without any fear of becoming addicted. It’s only when it becomes impossible to stop, that the warning bells go off. If you have the desire to head to the nearest casino, betting office, sports game, lottery office or online casino on a regular basis, then proceed to wager over and above what you can comfortably afford to lose, then you may very well be in trouble. The most common problem however, seems to be not the frequency of the gambling but the inability to stop. Then before you know it you’re in a lot of debt and the problem has escalated into a huge one. Nothing seems to be a deterrent, whether you’re happy or sad, flush with money or broke, all reason seems to fly out the window. Unfortunately, unless an addict can admit they have a problem, there can be little hope of them getting help and overcoming the addiction. So what are the signs to look out for?

Gambling addicts come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, gender (men are slightly more prone than women), nationality and age. A poll showed that approximately 2% of Americans had a gambling problem and that Canada is one of the countries with the highest rate of gambling addicts in the world. The interesting thing is that half the people surveyed did not think gambling was a potentially dangerous risk.

Do any of these 12 ‘red flags’ apply to you?

  • Gambling far more than you can afford to lose
  • Using money, that’s been put aside to pay bills, to fund your gambling
  • Avoiding work commitments and other duties to gamble
  • Lying and being secretive about your gambling
  • Stealing to fund your gambling
  • Selling important possessions to fund your gambling
  • Unable to take control of your gambling
  • Betting higher and higher amounts when gambling
  • Once you start gambling, not being able to stop
  • Gambling to cheer yourself up or escape your problems
  • Feeling guilty, depressed or suicidal
  • Family or friends, or you for that matter, think you have a gambling problem

The cause

Gambling addiction is like alcoholism or drug addiction, in as far as it affects the part of your brain that’s called the ‘insula’, and if overstimulated, causes your perception to be twisted. For example, the mistaken belief that every near-miss will eventually lead to a big win. Unfortunately the more you persist in indiscriminate gambling, the more pronounced the problem becomes.

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, the first thing to do is to speak to a trusted doctor or mental health professional, as they can discuss the options available to you and fast track you to where you need to go for help. In addition, they’ll be able to provide informative reading material so you’ll know exactly what to expect.

There are recovery programs that can help you manage the problem. Unfortunately, part of the treatment is to quit gambling completely. Relapses are highly common, particularly if you’re still engaging in some form of gambling. Like people with other types of addiction, gamblers are taught to control their urge so as to be able to lead a healthy normal life without the uncontrollable and destructive impulses.

Inpatient treatment

In severe cases, or if the gambler can’t seem to deal with the addiction alone, then admitting oneself into a facility is an effective way to tackle the problem in a structured way. The discipline required to keep away from casinos, whether they be the actual establishments or virtual online ones, can be enormous. An inpatient program can last anywhere from 3 - 12 months. It may seem like an extreme measure to take, however, the results are usually very successful.

Outpatient treatment

The more common form of treatment is to continue to maintain your normal life, by working or studying and living at home while attending an outpatient program. These are run by professional counsellors or psychologists, on a weekly basis, and are often conducted in group sessions with other people with the same addiction. The benefit of being part of a group is that you have the other member’s experiences and support, and that can be reassuring. Alternatively, there are one on one sessions for those who feel more comfortable in a private environment.

Online

There are several online helplines like GamTalk, where you can have live chats with professionals, join community forums and read stories of hope. They have a strong network of people and are able to offer the support and help you need. There are many other helplines out there, all you need to do is find one in your area that sounds good to you.

Self Help

There is also a lot of self-help literature in the form of questionnaires, pamphlets and guidebooks. These methods are helpful when starting out on your journey, however, people invariably need additional support in the form of programs such as Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous and others. The best place to start is the Responsible Gambling Organisation in your town or city. They also offer chat lines and 24-hour support, so make use of what you can, as there are many options out there available to you. There are so many potentially related issues you may have to deal with, such as legal problems, theft, deceit and forgeries and emotional problems like insomnia, anxiety and depression, so it’s good to be able to look into the different treatments and solutions available.

Other programs

  • As with Alcoholics Anonymous, there is also a 12 step program for gamblers called, you guessed it, Gamblers Anonymous (GA). This has proven to be a very successful way of treating the problem over a long term period, with weekly or bi-weekly meetings, together with other people who are in the same boat. The principle works on just that, being with others and supporting each other so you don’t experience the isolation that sometimes occurs when dealing with a problem on your own. Being able to talk to others that know exactly what it’s like can be an enormous relief particularly when you are just starting out on your recovery. After a 6 month evaluation, it showed that group therapy seemed to be more successful in the long term.
  • Psychotherapy attended on a regular basis can often get to the root of the problem by discovering if there are any deep-seated reasons for your addiction. Being in a safe environment with a psychologist you feel comfortable with can help you reveal the root cause of your destructive behaviour and get you on the path to recovery.
  • Depression or Bi-Polar disorder could be the cause of your addictive behaviour, and if you suspect this is the case with you, then getting on some form of medication and treatment from a professional may be the best course of action. It’s important that the reason for the behaviour is identified so that you can tackle the cure appropriately.
  • There are several other alternative treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which have proven to be the most successful especially when combined with other forms of behavioural therapy. This is because of the irrational thoughts that are connected with problem gambler’s view. They believe they can control and predict the outcome of the game, thinking that they will eventually win. Conclusive evidence shows that this type of therapy has the most promising outcome because the gambler’s behaviour undergoes significant changes for the better. CBT does not change the game behaviour, but it directly improves stress, depression and anxiety which then improves the ability to deal with the irrational behaviour of gambling.
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a 1 - 4 session treatment that tackles the ability to change how a person thinks and behaves. It gives the gambler the desire and motivation to improve their circumstances by revealing the huge benefits of an alternative lifestyle. It highlights the way things are in the present, to the way things could be once the addiction has been controlled. Resistance to change can be the biggest obstacle, which is why this form of therapy is so helpful.

Atonement

One of the hardest things about gambling addiction is the devastation it causes among those nearest and dearest to you. Most addicts will do anything to get their ‘fix’ and gamblers are no exception. Using money that doesn’t belong to you, or that is meant for bills and other important matters, lying and cheating and many other forms of deceit. The tragic effects are twofold, to both the gambler and those closest to them. One of the most important parts of the recovery is being able to mend the damaged or broken relationships and taking full responsibility for the harm you’ve caused. You won’t be able to move forward until you’ve been able to mend those fences.

What now? Making better choices.

Once you’ve started the process of overcoming the addiction, there will be many other life changes you’ll need to consider. The most important thing to do is to get rid of the triggers and components that facilitate gambling. The 4 most vital components of gambling are;
Deciding: as previously mentioned, you have to decide that quitting is what you need to do. Make sure that every time you feel the need to relapse, you do everything in your power to put the idea out of your mind. Another helpful thing to do at a time like this is call a support person that can talk to you and help you overcome the urge.
Finance: the idea is to cut your money supply off at the source, by destroying credit cards, closing casino accounts and allowing someone to look after your finances till you’re over the worst. The ravages of gambling addiction could leave you and your family in dire financial circumstances. Having to sort out money, pay debts and bills, may be overwhelming to deal with, to say the least, especially if you’re trying to cope with other things at the same time.
Time: you’ll find you have a lot more time on your hands if you’ve stopped gambling, so finding ways to keep active, busy and focused on something else is vital. Taking up new hobbies, sports or even meditation will help to prevent you falling back into temptation.
Opportunities: Taking away any form of enticing temptation of gamblng games. Putting yourself in dangerous situations, places and events is going to make it harder to resist the urge. Get rid of the apps, close online casino accounts and block them. You can even have yourself restricted from entering land casinos. Compulsive gambling, like other forms of addiction is hard to quit and extreme measures are called for.

Online Gambling

Gambling online has become more and more popular in recent years and with its growth, we’ve also seen the problem of addiction increase. Online casinos are usually stringent advocates of Responsible Gambling and even give you the ability to self exclude yourself from their casino. This means that you give the casinos permission not to serve you again. As strict as this sounds, closing your account is the most effective way of getting the process of quitting started. Being excluded from the casinos is a temporary solution, however, and other forms of treatment are usually warranted such as the ones mentioned earlier.

When it comes to self-exclusion at land based casinos, the first step is to contact a staff member on site who will then refer you to the security department where you’ll need to show some form of ID and fill out some paperwork. You won’t be allowed to continue gambling in that establishment again and consequences will apply if you’re caught doing so. This may seem harsh, however, it’s been proven to be a good deterrent if the gambler is serious about quitting the habit.

Common Gambling Myths

There are many common beliefs and myths that are often just stories made up to make gamblers and those around them feel better about the situation. Let’s look at some of the common ones:

  • Gambling isn’t a problem if you can afford it

The negative repercussions of gambling are not just about lack of money. There are a number of other outcomes from spending too much time gambling, and they can be even more devastating, such as relationship breakdowns, legal issues, depression and other mental health issues which can often lead to suicide.

  • People gamble due to unhappiness or bad relationships

This is really just an excuse that some people use to blame their addiction on someone else and make it their fault instead of taking responsibility themselves. It’s their way of rationalizing their bad behaviour.

  • Gambling addicts gamble every day

The frequency is actually not the problem but the inability to stop even though the gambler is aware of the consequences. A gambler with a problem, may gamble irregularly but when they do, they lose vast sums of money and can’t seem to take control of the situation.

  • Gamblers are weak people with no self-control

Gambling addiction is indiscriminate, it affects people from every background, race, religion and socioeconomic group. People who were once strong and in control can become addicts, which is why getting emotional help can often pinpoint the reason for the behaviour.

  • We should loan or give money to help gamblers out of debt

This is absolutely not the right thing to do as it usually exacerbates the problem instead of improving it. Unfortunately the gambler needs to feel the consequences of their actions in order to move forward and get help. If someone is always bailing them out of financial trouble, there’s no incentive for them to get on the straight and narrow.

Cravings and how to cope with them

You’d be fooling yourself if you didn’t expect to feel a strong desire to gamble. At first it will probably be a frequent occurrence, but with time, and fine tuning some coping mechanisms, there’s every reason to be able to move beyond the cravings.

  • Try not to be alone or be in situations where you feel lonely. Instead head on down to a G.A. meeting or meet up with a good friend or family member.
  • Find something interesting to do, the idea is to not get bored and start thinking about something you’d rather be doing, like gambliing. Now’s the time to take up a new sport or activity, something that you really enjoy. It’s amazing how good you’ll feel when you can go a day without a craving, then two days, then a week, a month and eventually you won’t miss it in your life anymore.
  • Think about what will happen if you start gambling again, all the negative consequences, like losing money, upsetting the close people in your life as well as yourself. Often this can be a deterrent and perhaps all you need is a few minutes to think through why you shouldn't do it, for the impulse to disappear altogether.

What if you lapse?

Like with smoking, some people do it cold turkey and never touch another cigarette again, end of story. However, this is often not the case. It’s the same with problem gambling, there may be times when you falter and take it up again. At this stage it’s important not to give up hope and think you’ll never succeed and therefore should just stop trying. It may take several tries at going clean before you are ultimately successful. The most important thing is to not give up, think about where you went wrong and continue on the road to a gambling free life.

Helping a loved one stop gambling

If you’re the wife, husband or partner of a gambler, you’ve had many difficult hurdles to get over. Although you may love your partner very much you may also be understandably angry because of the devastation your partner’s gambling has caused. You may have been lied to, cheated, stolen from, had valuable possessions sold to pay for huge debts etc.

Their choice

To conclude, although it’s incredibly important to be supportive and loyal to those struggling with a gambling syndrome, it’s often incredibly difficult to be continually understanding and forgiving. As much as we believe that love conquers all and that we can fix our loved one’s situation, unfortunately, you can only offer encouragement and assistance. The decision to actually quit and seek help has to be theirs alone, otherwise it won’t work. The gambler has to want to make a lifestyle change because he knows with every fibre of his being, that it is for their benefit and for their loved ones. Ultimately the decision is theirs and giving them love, support and guidance, whilst protecting yourself, is all that you can do.

Audrey Molly Photo Audrey Molly

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