Regaining control of your gambling addiction

The term addiction often brings to mind a visual of a person losing control over alcohol or drugs; in recent years, thanks to the media frenzy surrounding the exposed intimate lives of celebrities, perhaps even sex. But while addiction is so often connected to something substance-based, it can also be a behavior-based disorder. With the birth of e-sports betting and the prevalence of lottery programs, gambling addictions are on the rise.

But rather than being categorized as an addiction, a gambling problem is considered an impulse control disorder. This is because it’s the loss of control that defines it, not an addiction to a lottery ticket specifically or a deck of cards. Learn about the different types of impulse control

80% of all Americans gamble on a yearly basis, an astounding number – this may include participating in scratch tickets, fantasy sports, horse racing or a friendly game of poker at a neighbor’s house. It may seem innocent enough to participate in a bit of betting now and again, but the following statistics are staggering. The causes of gambling addiction are plentiful.

Studies show that the likelihood of developing a gambling addiction is significantly higher in those who have a history of alcoholism or substance abuse. Up to five out of every 100 gamblers struggle with a gambling problem (and that’s only counting the ones who admit to having an issue). While gambling has historically been a problem that’s more prevalent in the adult-to-senior category, as many as 750,000 people between the ages of 14 and 21 have also reported compulsive gambling.

While seniors – those who have limited incomes or restricted access to money – have received the most airtime for compulsive gambling, studies show that those aged 20 to 30 now have the highest rates of compulsive gambling. Up to 75% of college students have said they’ve gambled at least once throughout the year, with about 6% of American college students reporting a gambling problem. The risk of starting to gamble while in college is high; developing an addiction to betting and gambling more than doubles in this age range and environment.

It’s also been reported that gambling addiction becomes a gateway to a career in crime; there seems to be a distinct connection between just how severe a gambling problem is and the likelihood of participating in criminal activity. Up to 50% of those with a gambling issue have decided to turn to a life of crime, or at least commit one crime, to support their addiction. Read more about gambling addictions.

Mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also seem to play a part in the occurrence of a gambling addiction. Experts say that those who struggle with excessive gambling are at a higher risk for developing specific types of mental illness, including substance-abuse or alcohol disorders, depressionanxiety, or anti-social personality disorder. Those who are affected by PTSD and/or extreme levels of stress or anxiety also showcase much higher rates of compulsive gambling. The symptoms of PTSD have been reported to affect up to 30% of those who partake in excessive gambling, while almost 35% of people who seek treatment for pathological gambling also show symptoms of PTSD. 


When Jared was 21, his father took him to the local casino to show him a “lesson.” The casino was one of very few venues in the smaller Midwestern city they lived in, and many of Jared’s buddies who were of age spent considerable time there, playing blackjack or poker.

“He gave me $21 in quarters and took me to the slot machine,” Jared says. “I can’t remember how long it took me to go through that many quarters. I lost all $21.

“My dad said to me, ‘Son, I want you to see how fast the money disappears in this place. Don’t take up the habit.’”

It was a nice thought.

Jared, however, thought it was fun – he was thrilled by the sounds of the machines, the hum of the people, the dealers speaking in a language he didn’t yet understand. Most of all, he was enchanted by the idea of all the money that “must be floating around everywhere.

“I thought to myself, ‘No way money disappears here… look at all these people. No, you have to make bank here.’”

A few days later, Jared was back. This time, he moved away from the slot machines and went straight to the tables.

At 29, he says he’s only now left.

“It took me a while to admit I had a problem,” says Jared. “I was in major denial.

“The casino is a pretty big employer in town, and a lot of people go there because there’s really just not that much more to do around here. People go there to eat, or to hang out after work, so it just seemed like this innocent place you just go and kick back.

“But you know, you’d hear here and there about how this guy lost his house, or this couple got divorced, or how that guy maxed out his credit card on advances so he could keep playing. All those horror stories. And yeah, I’d shake my head and agree with everyone, and go, ‘Damn, poor guy. Wouldn’t want to be him.’

“But what no one knew was that I was him. I didn’t lose my house, because I didn’t have one, but did I (mess) up my credit? Did I drain my savings? Did I end up losing my job because I’d be late to every shift if I showed up at all, just to be at the casino? Yeah, sure did.”

Jared says that it was a short road to the gambling problem, but a long road to get out. Not only has he sought out professional treatment for his gambling, he says he’s had to be honest and police himself.

“You can have a well-laid out gambling addiction treatment plan, but that’s going to do nothing for you unless you stick to it,” he recommends. “Take it from me. I should be at that age… when you’ve had a house for a year or two, when you’re watching your savings go up instead of down, when your relationships are healthy because you’ve figured out all the BS after college and you know, you’re on your way.

“I’m not even 30 and I’m starting from farther than rock bottom. I feel completely up-ended.

“But like my support system keeps telling me – and it might be a poor choice of words, I don’t know – this is the best bet I’ve ever made. I’m betting on my future now.”

The five tips to gaining control of your gambling addiction

When you have a gambling addiction – like any addiction – not all hope is lost. There are things you can do to get your life back on track.

  1.  Admit you have a problem. As with all addictions, ownership is the first step to moving forward and ahead. The first hurdle in recovery is coming to accept that truth: that there’s something wrong, and that you need help. While the number of people with alcohol or substance abuse seeking treatment is high, the amount of people with a gambling problem who look for assistance is tragically small. Some reports say as little as 3% of people who suffer from compulsive gambling admit to their problem and seek treatment for it.

Unfortunately, because it’s a shameful and stigmatized problem, many people are too embarrassed to admit they need help, or they may be in denial, believing that their gambling can be controlled and that they can stop anytime. 

We know – this is the hardest part. But admitting that you have a problem isn’t a sign of weakness or stupidity – you’re battling a serious mental health disorder and there’s no shame in getting professional assistance to help yourself out of the mess that disorder has put you in. If you’re too afraid to tell a close friend or family member at first, you can call the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) hotline, which is staffed by caring and knowledgeable mental health professionals. You can seek out therapists in your area who are well versed in compulsive gambling. No one in the professional space is going to judge you. They will all be ready to help.

  1.  Seek out a support group. Support groups are beneficial because in a support group, you won’t feel alone. You’ll meet individuals who know exactly what you’re feeling, because they’ve been where you are. You’ll meet some people who have been in recovery for years, and who can help guide you while you’re in the early stages of healing, but you may also eventually meet people who are much newer to recovery than yourself. In a support group, not only will you find support, but you’ll be able to provide support too. In these groups you’ll meet peers whose phone lines and ears will always be open and available to you, for whenever you need help or just someone to talk to.
  2.  Avoid casinos and places of gambling at all costs. Know this: if you go into a casino, you are going to come out broke – and even worse than before you walked in. In order to free yourself from the chains of gambling, you must make the conscious choice to stay far away from places that tempt you toward that behavior.

Here are some tips to avoid the casino or other gambling sites: if you drive by a casino on your way home from work, take a different route. If your place of work decides to host an employees’ after-hours party at a casino, respectfully decline (no one has to know about why – simply let them know you’re unavailable, and leave it at that). If your family wants to go on a trip, choose places that you know don’t have a casino nearby. Remember: if a person goes out in a rainstorm, he’s going to get wet. If you go into a casino, you’re going to get yourself in trouble.

  1.  Find a healthy hobby. Many mental health professionals suggest replacing bad habits with good ones. Find a hobby that thrills you, one that is wholesome, healthy and fulfilling. It should be exciting enough that it takes your mind off the need or desire to gamble. Here's some coping tips to try out

You may decide to take ballroom dancing classes. You may decide to take a cooking course at a community college. You may take up a sport, a new language, or how to draw. You may decide to offer free dog-walking services around your neighborhood. Whatever you choose, it should be something you look forward to.

  1.  Seek professional help. When trying to make a major life change, such as ending your compulsive gambling, having a therapist walk you through is a great benefit to you. Overcoming compulsive gambling isn’t easy, and as mentioned here, it’s not a sign of weakness to admit having a problem. A good therapist will never make you feel judged or wrong for having a gambling problem.

You have several routes for treatment. First, you may seek a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you change unhealthy or negative thought patterns that might have led to your compulsive gambling. You might also choose to stay in an in-patient or residential treatment or rehab program, which is for those who feel they can’t stay away from gambling without 24/7 supervision. You might also choose to supplement your individual counseling with treatment for other underlying conditions, like depression or anxiety, and if your whole family has been affected by your gambling problem, you may choose to get counseling as a family unit. Credit counseling may be a benefit too, to get your financial life back in order.

If you have a gambling problem and need help kicking it to the curb, visit us

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