Gambling addiction can ruin your life financially, physically, emotionally and socially.
Millions of Americans have come to this painful realization, while many more continue to allow gambling to control their lives. Getting professional treatment and attending 12 step meetings is critical to getting back on track, but you still have to face the consequences of indebtedness. While it may seem like a daunting proposition, there really is a promising future ahead if you are sincere about recovery.
Questions arise. How do you proceed? Where should you start? Below are some tips for putting your life in order and recovering from a gambling addiction.
Make a list of all indebtedness
Most problem gamblers have debts related to gambling. In addition, they’re almost always behind on their financial obligations. The only way to begin climbing back from financial ruin caused by gambling addiction is to first see exactly where you are.
Start by listing all of your debts. Include overdue payments, money borrowed from family and friends, credit card balances and cash advances, checks you wrote for which there were no funds available, and money you owe to casinos.
If you’ve lost your home or are in the process of foreclosure, this item will be high on your list. The same holds true if your large possessions such as cars have been repossessed for nonpayment.
You may have had to declare bankruptcy as a means of righting your financial foundation. But this doesn’t stop the compulsive gambler, as you may well know. Even after getting a clean slate, so to speak, some gambling addicts go right back to spending money they don’t have in order to chase the elusive win. After years of such behavior and the resulting negative financial consequences, not only is there no money available (even family and friends won’t lend you money anymore), compulsive gamblers in the final stage of their addiction may consider suicide.
Once you have your complete list of indebtedness, put it aside. It’s time to move on to the next area in your self-inventory.
Examine how your life has been affected by gambling
Avoid becoming nostalgic about the past gambling wins. Those days are gone, if they ever truly existed. Here you need to concentrate on the negative ways that compulsive gambling has affected your life.
- Physical — In what ways has your physical well-being suffered as a result of your gambling? Have you lost considerable weight or gained pounds due to insufficient diet and lack of exercise? Have you developed a smoking addiction in addition to gambling? Do you also drink, do drugs, or have other addictive behaviors that have contributed to a decline in your physical health? Are you unable to sleep through the night due to a medical condition that you have not paid attention to or that has progressively worsened?
- Emotional — Think about the past few months and years of your gambling addiction and the way you feel about your behavior. Are you frequently depressed, anxious or fearful? Do you engage in self-justification or tell lies in order to cover up your actions? Are you filled with guilt and shame over your mounting losses and the resulting deterioration in your family life?
- Work — Did you lose your job, fail to get a promotion or get demoted? Have you lost a number of jobs due to your gambling? Are you no longer taken seriously at work? Do co-workers regard you as undependable, untrustworthy or worse? Are you in danger of losing your ability to provide for your family as a result of your gambling addiction?
- Social — Have you lost a great number of friends due to your gambling addiction? Do co-workers and formerly close confidants avoid you now because you’ve created problems or hardships for them as a result of your addiction? Do you neglect your social network so that you can concentrate on gambling? Do the only so-called friends you have consist of other gamblers?
- Legal — Have you been arrested, named in a lawsuit, been served with divorce papers, brought to court over child support issues or had other legal problems as a result of your compulsive gambling?
- Family Life — How has your gambling addiction affected your life with your family? Do your children respect you? Do you fail to come home to have dinner at regular times with the family? How are your marital relations with your spouse? Have you paid any attention to the needs of your partner and children or are you consumed with your gambling addiction?
There may be other areas where your life has been negatively impacted by your compulsive gambling. If they don’t seem to fall into one of the previously mentioned categories, just list them anyway. The point isn’t classification, anyway. It’s about making a complete self-inventory of all the ways gambling has negatively affected your life.
List the reasons you gambled
In order to recover from gambling addiction, it’s important that you understand the reasons you gambled. If you already got professional treatment for addiction or have been seeing a private therapist to help you overcome your gambling addiction, you will already be familiar with this step. You can’t build a foundation of healthy behavior until you first know the underlying reasons for your need to gamble.
Some of the common reasons people gamble are listed below.
- Gambling provides excitement
- Gambling makes me feel like a big shot, a winner
- I can win a lot of money gambling
- Gambling helps me feel more outgoing and social, since I am very shy
- I gamble to forget about my problems
- Gambling makes me feel more powerful
- I numb myself out by gambling
- When I gamble, I can avoid other people
- I don’t have to think about my problems when I gamble
- I gamble to get over my depression or unhappiness
- I gamble out of boredom
- When I gamble, I’m no longer bored
- Gambling is entertaining
- I like gambling, everything about it is pleasing to me
- Gambling is a habit
Limit your access to gambling
Overcoming your gambling addiction is tough work. It requires a sincere commitment to abstinence and also making sure that you aren’t able to easily access gambling. If access is readily available, your cravings and urges to get back into the action may quickly cause your resolve to slip and you’ll relapse faster than your money disappears in the slots.
Some of the following steps have proven helpful to other compulsive gamblers who are dedicated to limiting their access to gambling. See if they work for you.
- Self-exclusion — This means you literally bar yourself from the casino.
- No transportation — Cut off your means of getting to and from the place where you gamble.
- No Internet access — If your gambling addiction involves Internet gaming, ditch your Internet access.
- Change residences — You could move to a location that’s farther from the place where you’ve been gambling. This is an extreme measure, but it does work as long as there’s no available gambling location anywhere close by.
- Drop gambling friends — Of course, you can’t resist gambling if all your friends are gamblers. As any gambling addiction treatment professional will tell you, you will need to discontinue seeing those friends and find some new ones — people who don’t gamble.
- Get off casino marketing lists — Make it a point to get your name removed from casino promotion lists, including email reminders.
Limit money access
You can’t gamble if you don’t have money. Strategies to employ to limit your money access are listed below.
- Cancel all your credit cards. An alternative is to hand them over to your spouse.
- Cancel your ATM access or put a severe limit on it.
- If you do require cash for daily expenses, only draw out the bare minimum to get through the day. Forget the $10 or $30 or $50 extra for walking-around money. It’s so easy to burn through it at the casino, buying Lotto tickets, or other forms of gambling.
- Have your paychecks deposited in your bank account, or the account of your spouse.
- Make arrangements with your bank to limit the amount of money you can withdraw from your account each week.
- Advise your family members, friends and co-workers not to lend you any money — for any reason whatsoever.
- Arrange for someone else to pay your bills. This could be your spouse who has control over your money or someone outside the immediate family. It will need to be someone you trust completely, and who won’t be persuaded to hand over money to you .
- Start to budget all money that comes in and goes out for any expenditure.
- You may wish to have someone else co-sign all your checks. This is a tough strategy to follow, but it may only be a temporary measure. The point is to stop your ready access to cash, and this is a strong and effective way to do it.
Identify and learn to recognize gambling triggers
Your goal to recover from gambling addiction also means that you need to identify and learn how to recognize and deal with gambling triggers. Triggers may be internal (thoughts or feelings) or external (situations) and lead to the urge or desire to gamble.
Internal triggers may be caused by feelings of guilt or shame, helplessness or uncertainty, as well as anger, anxiety and depression. Internal triggers may also be caused by personal expectations and demands you have for yourself.
External triggers — words, images or objects — remind you of past gambling episodes. These may include billboards for nearby casinos, TV advertising touting casino gaming, a poker tournament on TV, a travel special about Las Vegas, or the freeway exit sign to the casino. Other external triggers may involve situations you’ve come to associate with gambling. For example, if you always went to the casino when your partner was out of town on business, or went to Bingo or the track frequently with friends, these are situations that may result in a craving to gamble.
Learn to overcome cravings
Recovering from gambling addiction involves learning how to manage cravings. Identifying and recognizing your gambling triggers doesn’t mean they’ll stop. Cravings and urges may continue to appear intermittently or even years after you’ve stopped gambling for good. It isn’t the fact that you have cravings and urges, but what you do about them.
First you need to be able to know when you’re experiencing a trigger. It may be that you have a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. You may feel a ringing in your ears or your heart starts to race and your blood seems to rush. Your voice inside your head may tell you to gamble, or you may get an image that you associate with gambling. Sounds or smells may also remind you of gambling.
You can try substituting another image for a visual trigger. If you see yourself gambling, picture yourself fishing, hunting, skiing or having dinner with friends instead. This positive substitution also works for activity. Instead of going gambling, go golfing, hunting or fishing with friends.
Another technique for coping with gambling triggers involves laying out the script. When you’re tempted to gamble, fast-forward the scenario in your mind to visualize what happens when you gamble. See the look on your spouse’s face. Think about the losses and the negative consequences that mount up. When you’ve lost everything and are totally bankrupt, exhausted, ashamed, guilty and disgusted with yourself, this is the end result of your gambling addiction. Remind yourself what it feels like. This will serve as a gut-wrenching deterrent to getting back in the game.
Now, take this a bit further and think about all the extremely negative consequences of your gambling addiction. This serves as negative conditioning. If you think of yourself as a complete and utter failure, hating to be a constant disappointment to your spouse or partner, to the point of contemplating suicide, you can link this feeling to your craving so that when the triggers resurface, they will immediately be accompanied by the extreme negative conditioning.
According to gambling addiction treatment professionals, many cravings will dissipate over a period of 20 minutes to a half hour, according to gambling addiction treatment professionals. If you can make it through this time, you’ll be on your way to successfully overcoming urges. Try distracting yourself by doing crossword puzzles, vigorous exercise, reading a book, talking with a friend or tackling physical chores.
Utilize your support network to help you overcome cravings and urges. When you feel like you can’t stop yourself from gambling, call your 12 step sponsor, counselor, close friend or family member and talk it through. If talking on the phone doesn’t suffice, attend a 12 step meeting.
Successful recovery strategies
Of course, to be successful in recovering from gambling addiction, you need to do more than just learn about triggers, limit access to money and gambling. Here are some other things to put in your toolkit.
- Develop other coping methods — Many recovering gamblers find it helpful to do yoga or engage in meditation, deep breathing exercises, getting regular exercise, writing in a journal, taking prescribed medication, getting additional professional counseling, learning anger management, and making more time for themselves.
- Get involved with new activities — Boredom is often a huge factor contributing to relapse in recovering gambling addicts. Guard against boredom by getting involved in new and healthier activities. It doesn’t really matter what these activities are, as long as they are healthy ones that don’t include associating with people, places or things associated with gambling or other addictions and don’t cause any harm.
- Be forgiving of yourself — To move forward in your recovery from gambling addiction, you need to be able to forgive yourself. This doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility for your actions, but it does set the stage for you to grow and develop healthier behaviors.
- Set goals and plans — Charting a new future means setting goals and making plans to achieve them. Now that you’ve made the decision and commitment to being abstinent, you have numerous options as to what you’ll do with your life in the short and long term. Make a list of things you want to achieve and begin to strategize ways to bring them to fruition.
- Have a plan for relapse — It isn’t guaranteed that you will relapse, but many recovering gamblers do. Again, it isn’t the fact that you slip that matters, but what you do about it. You need to have a plan for how you’ll get back on track if you do relapse. That means getting back into counseling, stepping up attendance at 12 step meetings, telling yourself that you aren’t a failure, learning what worked in your coping mechanisms and doing more of them, looking at what happened and finding ways to avoid those situations again.
In the end, recovering from gambling addiction means that you will take whatever amount of time is required to put your life back together. For some, this may be accomplished quickly, but every journey is unique. The best thing you can do for yourself to ensure lifelong recovery is to fully participate in your support network. When you reach the point where you feel confident in your abstinence, you may wish to help others with their recoveries.