5 Steps to Beating Your Gambling Addiction
The Dictionary.com definition of the word “addiction” is a sobering, so to speak, 32 words, reading: “the state of being compulsively committed to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
When it comes to a gambling addiction, severe trauma is often caused not by cessation of the habit, but by its practice. When you are addicted to gambling, you risk ruining your own life as well as damaging the wellbeing of many who love and care for you.
That does not mean that someone who is a problem gambler is a bad person or someone not deserving of love and care and countenance – not at all, in fact. What a gambling addiction means is that help is needed. And the best person to start you on your journey of beating a gambling addiction is always you.
As you’ll see, successful completion of that journey to stopping problem gambling is almost always one in which you have company and support, though. In other words, not only do you not have to work to stop gambling by yourself, but you shouldn’t.
Gambling: a Genuine Addiction
Before we talk about how to end a gambling addiction, let’s be clear that gambling can be a true addiction such as people have with narcotics, nicotine, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and more. It’s not a behavior a gambling addict can simply stop a will – if it were, they would.
According to Help Guide, a gambling addiction can also be called compulsive gambling, pathological gambling, or gambling disorder. And it can manifest itself in many forms, from online gambling to local card games to betting at the race tracks to casino games to sports betting and on it goes. Almost anything can become the basis of a wager, so for the gambling addict, almost any place on the planet can be filled with triggers. That’s why you have to truly beat your gambling addiction, not just try to hide from it.
1. Establish and Accept That You Have a Gambling Problem
Pathological gambling was recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in the year 1980, according to Business Insider. It is a known, named, and accepted disorder in the eyes of some of the world’s most trusted mental health professionals, so it’s OK to go ahead and accept that your gambling problem is not just a character flaw or an occasional issue, it’s a problem that can (and likely will) define your life until you can overcome it.
If gambling has caused problems in your life, putting a strain on your relationships, your work, your finances, and your happiness, it’s probably a problem for you. If you think about gambling often even when you’re not at the table, at the track, or at the game, that’s a red flag for gambling addiction. And if you have engaged in a behavior related to gambling you know is objectively a bad idea but you could not seem to help yourself, that’s your confirmation.
2. Identify and Address Potential Underlying Causes
Compulsive gambling is often linked in a correlated way – and sometimes in a causal way – with other mood disorders and mental health issues. People who suffer from chronic depression, from bipolar disorder, from anxiety or substance abuse issues, and other emotional health issues are often more prone to risky behaviors, with gambling very much ranked in there.
Your gambling problem may be symptomatic of other mood disorders, so it’s important you look for potential underlying causes.
If you have been diagnosed with any of the aforementioned afflictions in the past, then a major cause of your problem gambling may be easy to understand. If not, you may benefit from assessment for mental health concerns just the same, as they may have gone untreated for many years.
And even without a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder or depression or another mood disorder, there can still be underlying causes for your gambling, such as stress and trauma experienced in childhood that left emotional scars or the stresses of your current situation that compel you to seek relief and release even if in potentially damaging ways.
3. Establish a Support Network
With a gambling problem clearly identified and accepted, the next thing to do is build up your support network that will help you face the problem. In an acute moment of worry, you can always use a service like the SAMHSA’s National Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (or 4357) and talk to a mental health professional immediately.
You should also reach out to Gambler’s Anonymous and find groups you can join for in-person meetings and in online forums. These groups can help guide you through multi-step recovery programs that are very effective for many people.
It’s also a good idea to work with a psychologist, therapist, or other mental health professional who can offer one-on-one support and counseling.
And don’t hesitate to share your problems and hope for recovery with trusted friends and family. They want what is best for you and when they know what is hardest for you, they can help – and be honest with yourself: many of them likely already know about your problem.
4. Consider Your Treatment Options
As noted, working with a psychologist or therapist can be a great way to overcome a gambling addiction, but many people with a pathological gambling addiction that is damaging their lives also turn to medication for help. Drugs like Prozac, Cipralex, or other SSRIs that can treat depression can be effective in reducing the urges problem gamblers feel, as can mood stabilizers like lithium or divalproex sodium.
A gambling treatment program combining medication and talk therapy can do wonders for the gambling addict, especially when the negative behaviors are not only ceased, but replaced. You can practice anything from mindful meditation to exercise to new hobbies to beneficially fill a space you may initially feel missing when you stop gambling.
Almost everyone with an addiction will relapse many times as they overcome their problem. To help protect yourself from falling back into a gambling addiction, you need to accept that possibility. Or, to use a more loaded term given our context, that probability. To do that, you can put various safeguards in place.
For example, retaining the services of a financial manager can be well worth the expense if it puts someone with a fiduciary responsibility in a place who can keep you from reckless withdrawals and expenditures when you are in a gambling headspace. You can also set up a bank account that will be linked to all of your expenses, such as the mortgage, credit card bills, and the like, and then never carry an ATM or debit card linked to that all-important account, so you can’t drain needed finances in a weak moment.
And finally, again, lean on that support network. A text to a therapist or a call to a fellow recovering gambling addict may keep you from placing that bet, and every bet you don’t make is a win.