Make no mistake about it. Overcoming a gambling addiction is tough work.
If it were as simple as just walking away from the casinos, slots, sports betting, track or card games, there’d be a lot fewer problem and compulsive gamblers.
Some gamblers might have tried cutting down on gambling or even stopping. But in no time at all – sometimes just hours – they’re back at the card table.
So, what does it really take to beat a gambling addiction?
Two basic requirements for quitting gambling
It’s quite simple, really, when you get to the essence of what it takes to quit a gambling addiction. The problem or compulsive gambler first has to genuinely want to quit gambling. That’s easier said than done. Many problem gamblers go for years without coming to that realization. When and if they do, it’s often only a fleeting desire and not compelling enough for them to take action. That’s the second basic requirement to quitting gambling: you have to go through the difficult work it will take to overcome your addiction. But the excuses can come up quickly:
- “I don’t have the time. I can’t take off work.”
- “I don’t really have that big a problem.”
- “I can quit anytime I want.”
- “My gambling isn’t hurting anyone.”
- “What I do is my own business.”
- “I don’t need shrinks prying into my affairs.”
- “No way am I going to some rehab clinic filled with addicts.”
- “I don’t have the money to pay for treatment and my insurance won’t cover it.”
There are many more reasons people tell themselves and others about why they can’t or won’t go into treatment to overcome their gambling addiction. Maybe you’ve even used one or more of these. The point is, until you are ready to say honestly to yourself that you genuinely want to quit gambling forever and you’re willing to do whatever work it takes to do so, you’ll never overcome your addiction. Period.
What’s needed to beat a gambling addiction?
What are the kinds of things that you have to do and that have to change in your life for your gambling recovery to be successful?
Get rid of these assumptions. This won’t be easy to accept. Some popular assumptions about gambling are merely traps. By buying into them, you’re only defeating your ultimate goal – to quit gambling.
- Willpower isn’t enough — Many well-meaning self-help gurus may tell you that with strength of willpower, anything is possible. For a problem or compulsive gambler, willpower may only last until the next urge pops into their mind — and won’t leave. Tell a starving man that willpower will make the hunger go away and see how good that does. Same principle applies with the gambling addict. You can’t tell yourself that you’re strong enough to stay away from gambling and expect that it will do anything other than reinforce your feelings of worthlessness, remorse, guilt and shame when you go right back to gambling.
- You can’t manage your gambling — Another assumption gambling addicts and problem gamblers make is that they can somehow manage their gambling. The person may say they’ll only gamble on every other day, or once a week, or limit themselves to a specific amount of money or block of time. The truth is that any gambling at all is like pouring gasoline on a flame. Once it starts, it’s not going to stop anytime soon. The problem gambler and the gambling addict have long since passed the point of turning their back on the tables. Their compulsion to gamble has taken over their lives, often to the point of complete ruin — financial, family relationships, social, loss of job/home/personal possessions, physical, psychological and legal. There isn’t any managing of gambling possible for the gambling addict.
- You’re not sick — While opinions are divided on whether or not addiction is a disease, get out of the mindset that you’re sick. You’re not dying of cancer — that’s a disease. Gambling addiction is a type of impulse-control disorder — and it’s completely treatable. People who look upon themselves as sick have a built-in excuse: “It’s not my fault. I can’t help it.” Ditch that assumption right now. It won’t do you any good, and will probably derail your efforts to overcome your gambling addiction.
Successfully overcoming your gambling addiction
The following strategies, techniques and beliefs are essential to successfully overcoming your gambling addiction. You learn them and incorporate them into your life through counseling, treatment, behavioral therapy, support meetings – and practice.
- Take back the power in your life — You’ve relinquished power to your gambling addiction. Through treatment, you will learn how to take back the power to make your own decisions, instead of having your addiction control you.
- Learn how to deal with stress — For many gambling addicts, the only way to deal with stress is to escape through gambling. Learn effective techniques to minimize everyday stress and how to cope with unavoidable stress when it occurs.
- Stop labeling yourself an addict — Negative labels are self-perpetuating. Yes, you have an addiction, but you are doing something constructive about it. Learn to think of yourself in recovery.
- Envision a future full of possibilities — free of an addictive lifestyle. Everyone needs to have goals, something they strive for. Learn to envision your life free of addictions, a life that is full of possibilities.
- Mend relationships — Often problem and compulsive gamblers have hurt those they love most, family members and close friends. It’s time to repair that rift, and rebuild close relationships. Remember that those who love and care about you want you to be part of their lives again. Work on making that happen.
- Find a deep life purpose — Why are you here? What deeper purpose does your life hold? Through envisioning, meditation, counseling and discussion you will discover what truly holds meaning for you. This will serve as a foundation upon which to build your future. Reconnect to your values — or form new ones.
- Change your mindset — Learn to stop thinking that you’re doomed to forever be a gambling addict, or that it’s too late to change. Instead, learn to recognize the positive attributes that you possess and work on developing and fostering them.
- Use your mind’s power — Give yourself credit, which means using the power of your mind to help you work through often contradictory emotions and thoughts. Biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy will help you channel your energies in the right direction. This will help you remain on track with your goals.
- No more lying — This simple practice has to become embedded. You must learn to tell the truth in all situations. Practice being truthful — and this will be difficult for gambling addicts so used to telling falsehoods. Start with small things like if you’re hungry or thirsty or if you want to discuss a certain topic or not. The more you tell the truth, the easier it will become.
- Be in control — Related to taking back the power, being in control means that you make this an inner belief. Learn self-management techniques.
- Understand why you’ve been stuck — What caused you to begin gambling in the first place? What perpetuated the habit until it became an addiction. Once you’ve identified the reasons, you will learn new behaviors to change your life.
- Quash your urge to gamble — This is critical to your successful recovery, as urges and cravings will pop up at every opportunity. You will learn tried-and-true techniques to quash these urges.
- Rebuild your self-esteem — Gambling addicts have extremely low self-esteem. Through counseling, discussions, lectures, group exercises, meditation and other therapies you will rebuild your sense of self — self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Eliminate guilt, shame and deprivation — All these are negative constructs that have no place in your life in recovery. You will learn to recognize them when they seek to take over your mind and how to banish them forever.
- Learn to manage your money — Maybe you’ve left a swath of financial ruin in your wake. Perhaps you’ve lost everything, including home and personal possessions. You probably owe a great deal of money to many creditors, including personal loans from family and friends. You will learn how to manage your money and put your finances back on track through practical techniques.
- Identify bad habits and learn how to change them — Habits are rooted in repetitive behavior. Not all habits are bad, and you will learn to differentiate between the bad and the good. Time to ditch your old bad habits and replace them with constructive new ones.
- Take responsibility for your problems — Being honest and in control of your circumstances means that you take full responsibility for your problems, and not just your gambling addiction. Once you take ownership of your problems, you can work on solving them.
- Learn to live on your own terms, free of dependencies — You may not be able to see this as a reality until you are many months past treatment and into recovery. But it is a goal to strive for. In fact, you probably can’t even imagine being free of your gambling addiction. You will, if you choose to keep to the two basic requirements: sincerely want to quit gambling and do whatever hard work it takes to make that happen. In fact, related to bad habits are other dependencies that you may also choose to relinquish, such as drinking, smoking, overeating, etc.
- Look at recovery a rewarding and exciting — A future of limitless possibilities, a regained sense of self-esteem and self-confidence, fully in control, accepting of responsibilities, loving and close relationships — and the ability to pursue your dreams — these are what you have to look forward to in recovery. In short, your life in recovery will be every bit as rewarding and exciting as you want it to be. Remember, you are in control of your life. Make it what you truly want.
In summary, what does it take to beat your gambling addiction? The answer is: all of the above. And, yes you can do it. So, if you’re ready, why not start now?