How to Deal With a Gambling Addiction

Three Methods:Recognizing Your Gambling ProblemManaging Triggers to GamblingGetting Help and Support

Pathological gambling involves an inability to control gambling which can lead to psychological issues, as well as financial, professional, and legal consequences.[1] Gambling can activate the brain’s reward system, much like other addictions, which can make it very difficult to quit.[2] However, you can deal appropriately with your gambling problem by recognizing your issue, coping with it, managing triggers to gambling, and getting help and support.

Method 1
Recognizing Your Gambling Problem

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    Recognize your behavior for what it is. Admitting the problem is the first major step in dealing with it. If you first recognize the signs of your problem, you can then learn to modify your behavior.
    • Signs and symptoms of a gambling problem include: getting a thrill from taking gambling risks, taking increasingly bigger gambling risks over time, a preoccupation with gambling, reliving past gambling experiences (through imagination or telling stories), using gambling as a way to escape problems or negative feelings, feeling guilt or remorse after gambling, and repeated failed efforts to cut back on gambling.[3]
    • Additional social issues associated with gambling include: taking time away from work or family life to gamble, concealing or lying about gambling, and borrowing money or stealing to gamble.[4]
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    Accept the consequences of your gambling. Gambling excessively can cause many issues including: relationship problems, financial issues, legal problems, occupational concerns (job loss), substance use, poor health, and mental health issues (such as depression).[5]
    • Do you lose time from work to gamble? Do you extend yourself beyond your means by gambling away money that you have set aside to pay your rent, mortgage, or other bills? Do you use credit cards to gamble? Are you secretive about where the money's gone to after you've gambled?
    • Make a list of all of the consequences you have encountered due to your gambling. Also, identify people you have hurt as a result of your gambling such as family and friends.
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    Understand the risks of gambling. Knowing the risks of gambling may help encourage people who gamble to consider the consequences before deciding to gamble.
    • Excessive gambling can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression, increased suicide risk, relationship issues and stress-related illnesses.[6]
    • Gambling also increases stress levels (via the stress hormone cortisol) and your heart rate, which can lead to health risks.[7]
    • Pathological and addictive gambling can result in decreased decision-making skills and reduce your ability to evaluate the consequences of your actions.[8]
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    Be honest about your gambling. Don't be secretive about your finances or your gambling. Be honest with yourself and others about money spent gambling.
    • Pay bills immediately, when you have funds set aside to pay them.
    • Add up losses and keep a running tally. When you've added up losses from a gambling session, list the things that you might have purchased with that money, or other debts you could have paid down.
    • Admit it to yourself and others when you have gambled.

Method 2
Managing Triggers to Gambling

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    Identify your triggers and cope with them. Knowing what your triggers to gambling are can help you become better at dealing with your impulse to gamble. Triggers are thoughts, feelings, situations, and behaviors which make you want to gamble. For example, being around friends who gamble is a powerful trigger for many gamblers.
    • Identify your triggers by keeping a thought journal. When you have the desire to gamble, stop at that moment and write down your thoughts (possible trigger such as thinking about gambling), feelings (perhaps boredom which is a trigger to gambling), and ways you are going to cope with your trigger.[9]
    • Do negative emotions such as stress or sadness lead to your gambling? If so, you may need to learn better ways to deal with these emotions.
    • Do you often gamble when you are looking for excitement? If so, boredom could be a big trigger for you. You may need to keep yourself busy or engage in other exciting (and safe) activities to fulfill your need for a thrill.
    • Try listening to music. Music may help calm and relax you in order to reduce impulsivity and deal with triggers to gamble.[10]
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    Don't put yourself in a position to gamble. An individual with a gambling problem cannot gamble sensibly because the addict may be hooked on the adrenaline rush associated with "the chase." It is difficult to be in control if you are preoccupied with the feeling you get from an activity.
    • If friends suggest a trip to the casino, be honest with yourself and with others about the fact that, for you, gambling has gone beyond being recreational. Suggest another activity or opt out of this particular one.
    • At the earlier stages of recovery, avoid even driving past a gambling hall.
    • Avoid going to places that encourage gambling such as Las Vegas, Nevada. If you surround yourself with gambling it can make it very difficult to resist the urge to make a bet.
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    Change your thinking about gambling. Negative thinking habits such as irrational beliefs, the illusion of control, and the gamblers fallacy can lead to increases in gambling behaviors.[11][12] Reduce these negative thoughts by identifying them and modifying them.
    • The illusion of control is common in people who gamble. It is the belief that you can somehow control the outcome of the game. In order to counter this thought, remind yourself that no strategy or trick can control the outcome; it is impossible to control the game (whether it be cards, online poker, betting on a sports game or horse race, or using slot machines). Each throw of the dice is independent and random.
    • The gamblers fallacy is when someone believes that a random event is less likely to happen due to a previous event. For example, a person may believe that his chances of losing a game of cards is less likely because he just lost; therefore, he believes it is more likely that he will win this time around. However, statistically speaking, the odds are exactly the same as before.
    • Superstitious thinking is also a common thinking habit associated with gambling. You may believe that random incidents have meaning. For example, if you are betting at the horse race track, perhaps you always pick a certain horse with a particular name because you believe it is lucky. Remind yourself that superstitious thinking occurs due to random events that occur together; it does not actually mean something is lucky.
    • Reduce risk-taking behaviors by thinking logically about the consequences and outcome of the situation.[13] When you want to gamble, think about how much money you have lost and are likely to lose if you make a bet.
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    Prepare words to tell yourself when you want to gamble. Planning on what to tell yourself when you feel the urge to gamble can help ensure that you have a strategy when the time comes; this strategy can help you limit or eradicate your gambling.[14]
    • You can start by telling yourself, “It is too risky to gamble. I know that if I start I won’t be able to stop. I need to avoid it altogether.”
    • Explore different ideas of things to tell yourself and pick the ones that work best for you. You can write them down on index cards if you are likely to forget them. Then you can take them out and read them out loud when you have the urge to gamble.
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    Limit substance use. Substance use including alcohol and other drugs have been linked to increased gambling behaviors.[15] When you drink alcohol and use other substances, this lowers your inhibition and decreases your ability to make logical decisions.
    • Avoid drinking too much alcohol. A few drinks may be fine depending on your tolerance and weight, but being inebriated is a big risk factor for problem gambling. Your coping resources and ability to resist urges will be significantly decreased if you are intoxicated.
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    Increase impulse control. Some gamblers may have a distinct problem with impulse control.[16] Impulses are like cravings, they are automatic urges to do something such as gambling.
    • When you have an impulse to gamble, stop and take a breath instead of acting immediately.
    • Take a step back a observe your thoughts and feelings. What thoughts are you having? What feelings do you have?
    • Identify ways to cope or alternative activities to engage in. Practice what works for you.
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    Manage your moods. Moods, especially depression and anxiety, may be a direct link to gambling behaviors in some gamblers.[17] Learn better ways to cope with your negative emotions.
    • Try managing your emotions by writing them down, expressing them through art or dance, or talking to someone about them.

Method 3
Getting Help and Support

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    Get social support. Social support is an integral component of recovery from gambling.[18]
    • Tell your family about your issue if they do not already know about it. You could say something like, "I want you to know that I have been having a problem resisting gambling. I know it has caused problems for me in my life and I want to stop. I would appreciate your support."
    • Talk to friends about the issue and keep them informed. They can help you avoid triggers to gambling. You could say something like, "Hey, I just want to let you know I've been having an issue with gambling too much and I want to cut down. If you could support me in this that would be helpful for me." This way, your friends will understand if you don't want to go on that trip to a casino or Las Vegas.
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    Join a support group. Support groups can provide you with a safe environment to discuss your issue with gambling. It may also help you enjoy a congregation of individuals with similar struggles which can be very comforting and make you feel less alone in your recovery process.
    • For example, Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step program that meets internationally and has helped many people with their gambling issue.[19]
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    Talk to a therapist. Your gambling may be out of control if: it's affecting your relationships, finances, or work or school life, you're devoting more and more time and energy to gambling, you've unsuccessfully tried to stop or cut back on your gambling, you try to conceal your gambling from family or others, you resort to theft or fraud to get gambling money, or if you ask others to bail you out of financial woes because you've gambled money away.[20] These types of issues can add up, and professional help is out there if you are open to it.
    • Contact your health insurance for a list of approved therapists. If you do not have health insurance you can conduct a search for low-cost, sliding scale, or free mental health clinics in your neighborhood.
    • Ask questions of your therapist such as: What's the best approach to my gambling problem? Should I see a psychiatrist, psychologist, addiction counselor or other mental health provider?[21]
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    Explore different types of treatment. Knowing what types of treatments are available can help you make a decision on what type may be best for you and your needs.
    • Behavior therapy is a common form of treatment for gambling issues. This type of treatment uses systematic exposure to the behavior you want to unlearn (gambling) and teaches you skills to reduce your urge to gamble.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another effective form of therapy which focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones.[22]
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    Consider medication. Taking prescribed medications is an option if you find that your efforts to control your gambling have not worked. Antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help treat conditions that often coincide with a gambling addiction, but may not directly treat the gambling itself.[23][24]
    • Discuss options for medication with your doctor (general practitioner) or psychiatrist.

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Categories: Addictions