Are you or a family member having difficulty overcoming gambling addiction? Questioning why this happened to you and not the individual at the gaming table next to you? Do you wonder if it even is an addiction? Are you interested in overcoming gambling addiction on your own?
Overcoming addiction is indeed possible. If you want to do it on your own, consider the following as you set out to recover.
What is Severe Gambling Behavior
Problem gambling behavior occurs when an individual is preoccupied with gambling and has persistent thoughts of reliving their past gambling experiences. They gamble when they are feeling depressed or anxious. And after losing large amounts of money, they insist on chasing their losses – the cycle goes on. They are always chasing a high – however, the drug of choice is money and risk.
The severity is determined by how much the chase cycle jeopardizes your significant relationships, your job, education, or career opportunity.
“Just one more game, I swear I can win everything back.”
“I can stop gambling anytime I want to.”
“I just feel more alive right here than I do out there.”
Sound familiar? Emotions drive these statements. Gambling generates these emotions, but it is also a coping mechanism that keeps other, more difficult emotions at bay. All of these emotions, whether conscious or subconscious, keep the individual stuck in the gambling environment. And being stuck there exposes you to environmental factors that accompany your gambling, such as easy access to alcohol or cigarettes.
According to Jamey Lister and Lia Nower, adults with gambling disorders have higher rates of drug use, alcohol consumption, and addictions to nicotine when compared to non-severe recreational gamblers. These rates are even higher for young adults.
Knowing there is a psychological component involved with severe gambling behavior and recognizing environmental factors can help you toward overcoming gambling addiction. Learning to become aware of your emotional and physical state is critical. This is because addictions are feeling disorders. Whether using a chemical substance or using the internal chemicals generated by chasing the high, addictions aim to manage feelings.
So it is vitally important to make the connection between these feeling states and the places you go and activities you do. These connections are an important aspect of a recovery plan, but sometimes can be hard to spot. A trained professional can help you see these connections and build a recovery plan.
Where Does it All Start?
No single factor causes gambling disorder. Rather, many factors combine to produce a gambling addiction. This generally happens over time, not instantaneously. Identifying the specific building blocks that led you to gambling excessively can help you recover. Once you identify these building blocks, you can address the problems, implement behavior changes, and make more healthy decisions in these areas.
Let’s explore some common building blocks in a gambling addiction and how to address them.
Consider the environmental factors of a casino. How do the atmosphere, sounds, and lights affect your mood? What are your senses telling you immediately when you see and hear the slot machines whirling in the dimly lit venue? It’s a potent sensory mix.
Dr. Mark Griffiths explores how all five of our senses are leveraged when we spend time inside a casino. Casinos are designed in such a way to keep you physically and psychologically comfortable, so you will stay and play longer. These features influence your initial decision to gamble and continued gambling once in the casino.
Casinos are designed to stimulate your senses and worsen your addictive tendencies to remain in the venue longer, spending money that you may not even have. While it’s not easy, by avoiding casinos and similar venues you can avoid the over-stimulation that comes with your temptation to stay longer and spend more.
What does it feel like to set a budget for an experience that you’d like to have? Are you able to stick to a realistic amount of money that you’d like to spend on a game of poker? Or does that number increase dramatically once the game is not going your way and you have to buy yourself back in?
The ability to set boundaries for reasonable recreational spending can be easily lost with addiction. Overcoming a gambling addiction means regaining that ability to set and keep limits. There are healthier behaviors that can tame or replace the urge to set up a pile of money for gambling.
Consider how you plan a trip to a grocery store, concert, bowling alley, museum, or restaurant. For most people, these activities require a budget or set amount of money planned in advance. How have you handled this in the past? The likelihood is that your experience includes setting and keeping a budget, even if it was just one time with an activity like this.
So recall that time. Remember what it felt like not to overspend the allocated amount of money. Sure, it wasn’t the euphoric rush of a win, but there was probably a sense of pride at actually doing what you set out to do. This is an example of constructing a healthy boundary for yourself and setting a limit for your own behavior. To overcome your gambling addiction, your limit setting muscle needs lots of exercise.
Does Live Online Gambling Count?
With the introduction of the internet, it was inevitable that online gambling would follow. Researcher Sally Gainsbury states that internet gambling is the fastest growing mode of gambling and is changing the way that gamblers engage with this activity. There is concern that internet gambling may increase rates of gambling disorders due to the high level of accessibility, immersive interface, and ease with which money can be spent.
So to overcome your gambling addiction you must be aware of gambling websites that want you to create a new account and start spending money on the internet. They’re designed to be easy, accessible, and enticing.
Gambling websites can be blocked by using your browsing server’s tools and utilities. Third party “net nanny” software also can help block sites. It is essential to identify and block these websites that prey on the impulsiveness of your addiction. Prevent yourself from creating an account that will harm you in the long run – and not help you overcome your gambling addiction.
Making a Plan and Standing By It
What You Struggle With Currently
Reflect on your current behaviors that prioritize how you live day by day. How many of those thoughts center on your gambling patterns, and who is affected around you? While you may not think so, the reality is your preoccupation with gambling leaves you not fully present to others. Family members, a significant other, a roommate, or possibly a close friend – they all notice.
Similarly, consider your productivity at work, studies and semester grades, or your career development. The preoccupation aspect of your gambling addiction takes away from those things, too.
And yes, your happiness is a vital factor to place in this internal reflection. Your happiness is essential for proceeding forward.
“I’m only happy when I’m gambling.”
“No one understands what I’m going through.”
These thoughts, which are familiar to every gambler at some point, keep you stuck. They actually are part of the addiction and work to keep you in an environment that will not allow you to make progress with overcoming your gambling addiction. So notice your thoughts. Externalize, examine, and process them. By doing this, you become a stronger human being headed in the direction of recovery.
Identifying and externalizing these internal thoughts is not necessarily easy. Similarly, it can be challenging to construct new coping mechanisms to replace the ones not helping your behavior. While it’s possible to work through your gambling addiction on your own, it can be tough. Gambling addiction can be very complicated. You may require support from a licensed addiction counselor to recover.
The Environment That Surrounds You
Earlier, we had discussed casinos and gambling venues as a breeding environment for your addiction. With this in mind, also
exercise caution with factors that flare up in your common, every day activities. This may include a visit to the grocery store where scratch cards and lottery tickets may be purchased. Or sometimes visiting a bowling alley with an open bar or smoking attendees who enjoy substances while they participate in bowling. Becoming consciously aware of how these factors affect your emotions and behaviors helps you with overcoming gambling addiction.
Choosing healthy environments is a first step. But the next step is where the rubber meets the road. The moment you feel an urge to gamble is an opportunity to do something new. It can be helpful to excuse yourself from what you’re doing and do that new thing:
- Talk yourself through the environment with someone who wants to help you. They may be able to support you through a difficult stimulus that is distracting you from the purpose of your visit.
- Take a moment to reflect on the situation around you. Was the purpose of this visit to gamble? Or did you have a more important priority set in motion from the start?
- Distract yourself with something else that gets your mind off gambling. Some activities may include playing a game that does not involve betting money, watching a video for entertainment, or going for a walk to get your mind off things.
- Ask yourself what you were feeling or thinking right before the urge struck. While seeing something related to gambling may have triggered the urge, the greater likelihood is that it was an emotion or thought. Addictions are feeling disorders. That is they distract us from emotions that we don’t handle well. Identifying the emotion or thought that triggered the urge is the first step to resolving the situation causing the emotion.
Practicing Healthy Spending
You have many opportunities each day to practice healthy acts of spending money that do not involve gambling. Not all budgets are the same. It can be helpful to sit down with a family member or friend to organize a spending plan for visiting a specific site, such as a grocery store.
The goal is to stick by that selected amount and not spend any money over that amount. You could even praise yourself for spending less than the chosen amount! This practice helps you set up a healthy boundary with yourself. It also invites support as you practice new behavior every step of the way.
As with every new behavior, setting spending limits with yourself takes practice. At times, especially early on, it may be difficult, stressful, or frustrating. Remember your goal: learning the habit of healthy spending habits. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who want to see you succeed and can speak with you when you’re feeling down or lost during the process.
Can You Do It On Your Own?
Overcoming gambling addiction is a process that can be complicated. While it can be done, I don’t recommend doing it on your own. You deserve support as you recover. Gamblers Anonymous can be an inexpensive and helpful support in your journey. A licensed therapist can be an important ally. With the support of a therapist, you can learn new behaviors and leave problem gambling behind.
Overcoming gambling addiction begins with your decision to act. Healing from gambling addiction is possible. If you are in the Glen Ellyn or Jefferson Park (Chicago) area and want to know more about gambling and drug addiction counseling or discuss treatment options to overcome addiction, please contact us today.