Gambling is a billion dollar industry that is growing by the year. Yes, most people can enjoy an occasional visit to a casino, participate in an office betting pool or buy weekly lottery tickets without getting out of control. But if your gambling habit has become compulsive, know that you are not alone. Approximately three to four percent of Americans have a gambling problem. Sadly compulsion to gamble can take over your life and result in the loss of your family, your friends, your job, your money and your self-respect.
As with any addiction, an addiction to gambling affects different individuals in different ways. There is no one size fits all treatment. However, treatment always begins with recognizing the problem.
Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
The next step to reclaiming sanity and stability is to see a counselor for an evaluation and a treatment plan. You will probably come away with a recommendation that you participate in some combination of the following resources:
Treatment for co-occurring mental illness and/or substance abuse. Gambling addicts are significantly more likely to have mental health disorders or substance abuse problems. The statistics are bracing. According to www.masscompulsivegamblin.org, research shows that 50% of problem gamblers have a mood disorder and 60.8% have a personality disorder. 75% have an alcohol abuse problem and 38% have a drug use disorder. If you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder or substance abuse, it’s crucial to address it directly. The gambling addiction is not happening in a vacuum. It may be that your various addictions are a way you are self-medicating considerable mental distress.
Cognitive behavior CBT focuses on changing the beliefs that underlie your destructive behaviors so you can develop a new attitude about gambling and new tools for combating the compulsion. You will be helped to recognize negative and pessimistic thinking and to replace it with positive thoughts and behaviors.therapy (CBT):
Social Support/Self-help groups:. Programs like Gamblers Anonymous (a 12 step program based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous) can provide strong peer support when you are struggling to let go of compulsive gambling. People who have “been there and done that” can uniquely provide sympathetic understanding and encouragement. Like most self-help groups, success is often determined by the culture and commitment of the group. Look carefully to see how successful other people in the group have been in their efforts to quit. Success by others tends to breed success.
Family Involvement: Chances are you have a family. And chances are that the family has suffered from your addiction. It is not unusual for a compulsive gambler to neglect their spouse and children. It is not unusual for the gambler’s anxiety and tension connected with financial stress, secrecy and instability to spill out as rage or abuse. Sometimes problem gamblers spend the money that should go to food or rent or heat on their habit and spend more time on gambling than with the kids and spouse who need them.
With guidance and time, it is possible for wrongs to be righted. It is possible for an angry family to become a supportive one. When the family is positively involved in treatment, the addict has more support for recovery and the family may be able to heal and move on.
Medication assisted recovery: Medications that have shown promise for gambling addiction include topiramate and the antidepressants fluvoxamine (Luvox) and bupropion (Wellbutrin). Maltrexone, which the Food and Drug Administration approved for alcoholism in 1995 and for drug addiction in 1985, is also being looked at as a possible treatment. As of this writing, the research isn’t conclusive. Talk to your doctor about whether a medication trial might be helpful to you.
Inpatient Treatment: If your gambling addiction has led to severe social, medical, legal and/or financial difficulties, you may need to find an inpatient program to give a jumpstart to your treatment. Inpatient programs provide constant supervision, intensive daily individual and group sessions as well as coaching for managing your life differently. Often a few weeks inpatient sets a person on a positive road to recovery.
However. 28 days inpatient isn’t a cure. It is only a time to interrupt the compulsion and to begin to set another way of being in motion. Follow up with some combination of the other interventions is crucial if the gains made while inpatient are to stick.
Symptom Substitution: The “high” you get from gambling can be replaced with excitement and stimulation from other activities and interests. There is such a thing as a “positive addiction”. Any activity like running, biking, working out, collecting or gaming can stimulate the same intense feelings and pleasures that come with gambling. Just remember: It is important to take care not to get carried away on these activities as well.
Financial help: People who are addicted to gambling are often way over their heads financially. Part of your treatment may be working with a financial advisor to get real about your financial situation and to develop a financial recovery plan.
You may feel it is beneath your dignity to let your spouse or a friend or a counselor hold your credit cards and bank accounts for awhile and put you on a tight “allowance” but it is far more dignified than running your credit into the ground or lying to your family members. A second job can help with immediate financial issues and also keep your busy and distracted.
Keep a recovery journal: Studies have shown that problem behaviors are generally reduced by 20% if you write every time you have the urge. Find a notebook that is small enough to carry around. Every time you feel the urge to gamble, take out the journal. Write down how you are feeling, why you think you want to gamble and what you can do instead. Taking the time to write interrupts the compulsion. Reviewing your notebook may give you more information about your habit that can then be talked about with your counselor.