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Self-Help for Gambling Addiction
Problem gambling affects people from all walks of life. Whether you bet on sports, buy lottery tickets or scratch cards, play roulette, poker, or slots, in a casino or online, problem gambling can strain your relationships, interfere with home and work, and lead to financial catastrophe. For those considered severe problem gamblers, otherwise known as gambling addicts or pathological gamblers, you may even do things you never thought possible, like stealing money to gamble or taking money meant for your children. Gambling addiction can even lead to an increased risk of suicide.
You may think you can’t stop, but problem gambling and gambling addiction are treatable. If you’re ready to admit you have a problem and seek help, you can overcome your gambling problem and regain control of your life.
Understanding gambling addiction and problem gambling:
Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a type of impulse-control disorder. Compulsive gamblers can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. Gambling is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed. Even when they know the odds are against them, even when they can’t afford to lose, people with a gambling addiction can’t “stay off the bet.”
Gamblers can have a problem, however, without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that disrupts your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences, you have a gambling problem.
Myths & Facts about Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling:
MYTH: You have to gamble every day to be
a problem gambler.
MYTH: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it.
FACT: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can lead to relationship breakdown and loss of important friendships.
MYTH: Partners of problem gamblers often
drive problem gamblers to gamble.
MYTH: If a problem gambler builds up a debt,
you should help them take care of it.
Relieving unpleasant and overwhelming feelings without gambling:
Unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety can trigger compulsive gambling or make it worse. After a stressful day at work or after an argument with your spouse or coworker, an evening at the track or the casino can seem like a fun, exciting way to unwind. But there are healthier and far less expensive ways to keep unpleasant feelings in check. These may include exercising, meditating, using sensory relaxation strategies, and practicing simple breathing exercises.
For many people, an important aspect of quitting gambling is to find alternate ways to handle these difficult feelings without gambling. Even when gambling is no longer a part of your life, the painful and unpleasant feelings that may have prompted you to gamble in the past will still remain. So, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the different ways you intend to deal with stressful situations and the daily irritations that would normally trigger you to start gambling.
Signs and symptoms of problem gambling:
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as the "hidden illness" because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers typically deny or minimize the problem. They also go to great lengths to hide their gambling. For example, problem gamblers often withdraw from their loved ones, sneak around, and lie about where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to.
Do I have a gambling problem?
You may have a gambling problem if you:
Treatment for problem gambling:
Every gambler is unique and so needs a recovery program tailored specifically to him or her. What works for one gambler won’t necessarily work for you. The biggest step in treatment is realizing you have a problem with gambling. It takes tremendous strength and courage to own up to this, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way. Don’t despair, and don’t try to go it alone. Many others have been in your shoes and have been able to break the habit.
Overcoming a gambling addiction or problem is never easy. But recovery is possible if you stick with treatment and seek support.
Group support for gambling addiction and problem gambling:
Gamblers Anonymous is a twelve-step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. A key part of a 12-step program is choosing a sponsor. A sponsor is a former gambler who has time and experience remaining free from addiction, and can often provide invaluable guidance and support.
Therapy for problem gambling:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for problem gambling focuses on changing unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts, such as rationalizations and false beliefs. It also teaches problem gamblers how to fight gambling urges, deal with uncomfortable emotions rather than escape through gambling, and solve financial, work, and relationship problems caused by the addiction.
The aim of treatment is to “rewire” the addicted brain by thinking about gambling in a new way. The goal is to change your thoughts and beliefs about gambling.
Seeing a therapist does not mean you are weak or can’t handle your problems. Therapy is for people who are smart enough to realize they need help. It can give you tools and support for reframing your thoughts that will last a lifetime.
Maintaining recovery for problem gambling and gambling addiction:
As you may have noticed, quitting problem gambling is relatively easy. It’s staying in recovery- making a permanent commitment to stay away from gambling- that is such a challenge. Maintaining recovery for problem gambling and gambling addiction is possible if you surround yourself with people to whom you’re accountable, avoid tempting environments, give up control of your finances (at least at first), and find exciting or enjoyable activities to replace gambling.
Changing your lifestyle and making healthier choices:
One way to stop yourself from problem gambling is to analyze what is needed for gambling to occur, work on removing these elements from your life and replace them with healthier choices. The four elements needed for problem gambling to continue are:
Maintaining recovery from problem gambling or gambling addiction depends a lot on the reasons why you were gambling in the first place. Once you’ve quit gambling, reasons such as depression, loneliness, or boredom will remain, so in order to maintain your recovery, you’ll need to address these problems. There are alternative behaviors you can substitute for gambling. Some examples include:
Reason for Gambling and Sample Substitute Behaviours:
To provide excitement, get a rush of adrenaline-
Sport or a challenging hobby, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, or Go Kart racing.
To be more social, overcome shyness-
Counselling, enroll in a public speaking class, join a social group.
To numb unpleasant feelings, not think about problems-
Boredom or loneliness-
Find something you’re passionate about such as art, music, sports, or books then find others with the same interests.
To relax after a stressful day-
As little as 15 minutes of daily exercise can relieve stress. Or deep breathing, meditation, or massage.
To solve money problems-
The odds are always stacked against you so it’s far better to seek help with debts from a credit counsellor.
Dealing with gambling cravings:
Feeling the urge to gamble is normal, but that doesn’t make it any easier when you are struggling to make better choices. Remember, as you build healthier choices and a good support network, resisting cravings will be easier and easier. The following strategies can help:
If you aren’t able to resist the gambling craving, don’t be too hard on yourself or use it as an excuse to give up. Overcoming a gambling addiction is a tough process. You may slip from time to time; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and continue working towards recovery.
Helping a family member with a gambling problem:
Does my loved one have a gambling problem?
If your loved one has a gambling problem, he or she might:
How to help with a gambling problem:
Compulsive and problem gamblers often need the support of their family and friends to help them in their struggle to stop gambling. But the decision to quit has to be theirs. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is seeing the effects, you cannot make someone stop gambling.
If your family member has a gambling problem, you may have many conflicting emotions. You may try to cover up for a loved one or spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep him or her from gambling. At the same time, you might be furious at your loved one for gambling again and tired of trying to keep up the charade. The gambler may also have borrowed (or even stolen) money from you with no way to pay it back. He or she may have sold family possessions or run up huge debts on joint credit cards. When faced with the consequences of their actions, a gambler can suffer a crushing drop in self-esteem. This is one reason why there is a high rate of suicide among problem gamblers.
Preventing suicide in problem gamblers:
When gamblers are feeling hopeless, the risk of suicide is high. It’s very important to take any thoughts or talk of suicide seriously.
Tools for family members of problem gamblers:
Do’s and Don't for Partners of Problem Gamblers:
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