Gambling addiction, cards, addiction, red,

For those with a gambling use disorder or addiction, effectively stopping for good is extremely difficult. Often, total abstinence is the only way to remain in control, but avoiding circumstances involving gambling activities is not always easy. These tips aim to help those worried about their gambling behavior to reduce use before it becomes a problem.

How can I tell if I have a gambling problem?

Gambling is one of the most widely recognized behavioral disorders across the globe. In fact, Approximately 1 percent of the adult population in the United States has a severe gambling problem.[1]

If you are worried about how much you are gambling or feel your gambling has gotten out of control, then ask yourself these questions related to your gambling over the past 12 months:[2]

  1. Do you gamble more money than you can afford?

  2. Do you need to bet with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling?

  3. Have you chased losses (gambling more to win back when you’ve lost)?

  4. Have you borrowed money to gamble?

  5. Have you sold anything in order to gamble?

  6. Has a loved one expressed concerns about your gambling?

  7. Has gambling caused you to feel additional stress or anxiety, especially when not engaging with it?

  8. Has gambling caused issues with your finances, work life, relationships, or family?

  9. Have you avoided responsibilities or social engagements in order to gamble?

  10. Have you ever felt guilt or shame when you gamble, regardless of winning or losing?

If you answered yes to 6 or more of these questions, then you likely have a severe issue with gambling. Read here to learn more about gambling addiction and how to get treatment.

If you answered yes to between 2 and 5 of these, then you may have a gambling use disorder that could lead to addiction.

The steps below are designed to help you reduce your gambling use before it becomes an issue that requires treatment. 

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Get help during Covid-19

At Recovered, we recognize the impact COVID-19 has had and the continued challenges it poses to getting advice and treatment for substance use disorders. SAMHSA has a wealth of information and resources to assist providers, individuals, communities, and states during this difficult time and is ready to help in any way possible.

Speak to SAMSHA

12 tips to reduce gambling

While the best course of action to help with a gambling use disorder is therapy or rehab treatment, these tips can help curb troubling gambling behavior and create a toolkit for managing cravings.

1. Plan ahead to avoid gambling temptation

Gambling, especially if performed on a daily basis, provides a rush of highs and lows that are not easy to replace. Being prepared for moments of temptation and even boredom when gambling stops can help to prevent a relapse. 

Find another activity to replace gambling, even something as simple as a mobile game or crossword, that will engage your brain and distract from the need to gamble.

2. Take small steps

Like with substance use disorders and alcohol addiction, negative gambling behavior can be difficult to stop cold turkey. While distancing yourself from any and all gambling behavior is the best course of action to eventually stop, it is important not to be disparaged if you fall off the wagon. 

The important thing is to focus on every day as it comes and not to get psychologically discouraged by a slip-up the day before.

3. Talk about your gambling

The social stigma associated with gambling addiction and the feeling of helplessness often causes those with a problem to keep it bottled up and secret. Being honest and open with a loved one, close friend, or family member about your gambling problem can alleviate a lot of negative emotions and also build a support network.

It can also make you more open to the prospect of therapy by helping to see that your problem is worth talking about and can be understood by others.

4. Keep a journal

A journal is not only a good way of keeping note of your emotional state, allowing you to revisit events and evaluate how you felt about them then versus how you feel about them now, but it’s also a good way to record your wins.

Keeping a list of times you decided to choose another path over gambling can be a great motivator and reassurance that you have the strength to overcome your gambling addiction. 

It is also important to note down losses as well as remembering how these relapses made you feel can also provide positive reinforcement.

5. Do something completely different

Gambling often becomes a part of people's daily lives and rituals; as second nature as having a morning coffee. In order to break the cycle of gambling behavior, it is important to shake up these rituals and do something new. Setting targets and goals, be they fitness, learning, mental health, etc can help break your routine and create a distraction from gambling.

6. Find a hobby

Though it may sound cliche or old-hat, finding a new hobby or revisiting an old one can be a great distraction from problem behavior. Not only do hobbies stimulate the brain and take time, they also often remove the individual from situations where gambling is involved. Replacing negative behaviors like gambling with positive activities also helps to vastly improve mental health and well-being.

7. Learn to be patient

Studies have shown that gambling addicts have issues with impulse control and delaying gratification.[4] This means stopping gambling without first learning to control these aspects will often end in relapse. 

Learning mindfulness techniques as well as how to wait for positive outcomes can help reduce the anxiety felt from not gambling.

8. Be wary of social events

Gambling culture is closely linked to many events such as sports and avoiding the need to partake in betting activity when around them can be difficult. If you are going to a bar or social event where there is likely to be gambling, let the people you are with know you are trying not to gamble at the moment. If possible, try and avoid events like this until you are comfortable enough with your impulse control.

9. Do not use 'stress' as an excuse

Stressful situations such as work and finances are often triggering for those with behavioral disorders like gambling. Feeling stress can overwhelm our emotions and clouds judgment, often leading to us turning to releases like gambling to alleviate the sensation. 

It is important to find alternative ways to deal with stress, such as hypnotherapy or talking to a loved one/friend. This will reduce the need to engage in gambling in order to reduce stress.

10. Acknowledge your triggers

No two people will have the same impulse that drives them to gamble as our brains are all wired differently. Knowing what causes you to gamble, be it stress, alcohol, boredom, or anything else, can help you foresee when you will be tempted to gamble and begin to avoid situations that will peak this behavior.

11. Remember you will always lose in the long run

Many people with compulsive gambling behavior will continually try to win big no matter how much they use. Often referred to as ‘chasing the dragon’, trying to reclaim losses by looking for wins will always result in further losses. Even those who do win big regularly will often find themselves in a slump, where financial deficits quickly build up.

Reminding yourself that your gambling will almost certainly never bring consistent wins (and will almost certainly bring the opposite) can help increase focus and perspective on the shortcomings of gambling.

12. Be aware of your mental health

Gambling addiction can lead to severe mental health issues due to the extreme emotional and financial ramifications caused by it.

Depression, anxiety, stress, and obsessive compulsion are all potential disorders that may stem from gambling addiction. Gambling can also be a way of dealing with a preexisting mental health condition, such as with stress, and can lead to a co-occurring disorder being diagnosed. 

Monitoring your mental state before, during, and after gambling can help to keep on top of negative emotions and highlight just how badly gambling impacts your mental well-being. 

Quick does and don’ts for managing gambling behavior

In addition to the above steps, having a short list of does and don’ts to act as a reminder in daily life can be a great help to manage gambling behavior.[2]

Do

remember your financial obligations before betting
spend time with non gamblers
pay debts before gambling

Don't

see gambling as a means of income
Keep your gambling worries to yourself
get more credit/loans to gamble

What should I do if I can’t stop gambling?

While the above steps may reduce gambling use for some, in many cases, dedicated treatment is needed to stop for good. 

While it may seem daunting to seek help for gambling addiction, there are many options for treatment that can effectively locate the cause of gambling behavior and develop tools to manage impulses. 

Typical forms of gambling addiction treatment include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A tried and tested method for treating a range of addictions, CBT helps the client by identifying emotional connections to troubling behaviors, seeking out triggers, evaluating emotional reactions to these, and developing coping mechanisms to control these behaviors.

Support groups: Speaking with fellow recovering gambling addicts can be a great way of learning to support others while being able to speak frankly about your own addiction. Support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous also incorporate 12-step programs which offer milestones to conquer on the way to recovery.

Inpatient rehab: For some, the temptation to gamble is too much to endure while trying to become free of it. Residential rehabs offer a safe space free of temptation as well as evidence-based treatments for gambling and other behavioral disorders, amenities, relaxing settings, and structured aftercare programs.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from a gambling use disorder and require treatment, our rehab directory can help locate a treatment option near you.