I think I’m addicted to gambling – what should I do now?

It may take some time for a person with a gambling disorder to realise that they are addicted. When the problem gambler finally makes this realisation, it’s important for them to take steps to ensure that the addiction does not continue to worsen. These can vary from person to person, but several responsible gambling organisations agree that certain actions can help to both stop the addiction from continuing in the present and mitigate the chances of a relapse in the future.

Admitting the problem to oneself

The first step for handling a gambling disorder, like any addiction, is for the person to properly accept the fact that they are an addict. This step requires more than just a passing concern for one’s gambling behaviours. The problem gambler must accept the reality of their situation, accept that they are ultimately responsible for what has happened, and honestly desire to cut the addiction out of their life. Most organizations agree that without this step, absolutely no progress can be made in stopping a person’s pathological gambling.

Unfortunately, many problem gamblers do not admit that their addiction until they are in serious trouble. This is colloquially referred to as ‘hitting rock bottom,’ and can mean different things for different problem gamblers, including devastating financial trouble, loss of important relationships, self-harm, and drug use. However, with proper awareness and a desire to stop, a problem gambler can take control of their addiction before they reach this point.

Confiding in a trusted party

After admitting the problem to oneself, one of the most important things a problem gambler is tell someone they trust. This provides two benefits to the gambler: it stops the cycle of lying that can lead the problem gambler to continue gambling out of guilt, and it gives the person someone to turn to when the urges strike again.

A person with a gambling disorder can get these benefits by turning to any person they trust. These could include a spouse or other family member, a friend, a religious leader, or a counsellor or social worker. Having multiple people to turn to is even better, which is why support groups are often a good choice, as well.

Joining a support group

Gamblers Anonymous and other group support programs offer a unique way to help problem gamblers overcome their destructive gambling behaviors. These typically have ‘12 steps’ or a similar set of goals that members aim to accomplish by sharing their experiences and confiding in one another in a safe, anonymous place.

Going to a psychologist or counsellor

Studies have shown that problem gamblers benefit greatly from entering psychotherapy. Frameworks like cognit­ive­-be­hav­ioural therapy (CBT) provide a systematic, individualized approach to helping a person with a gambling disorder to identify their triggers, combat gambling urges, and change their behavior in order for them to live a healthy life without gambling.

Self-excluding from gambling venues

After making an honest admission of their addiction, many problem gamblers are not tempted to gamble again until the initial negative emotions pass. That’s why, during the first few days of recovery, it’s important for the person to put as many barriers between themselves and gambling as possible. One of the simplest and most effective of these is a process called self-exclusion, which is available at many casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks. This makes it against the law for the problem gambler to enter and use the gambling venue’s services.

With the rise of online gambling, self-exclusion is easier than ever at thousands of websites around the world. The player just has to request that their account be permanently closed because of a gambling problem. Most sites will readily comply with this request, close the account, and ensure that if the person does try to play again, that they will not be allowed to cash out any winnings. But for it to work, the player must specify a desire to stop playing permanently because of a problem, rather than just a short break.

More and more sites are taking responsible gambling more seriously than ever and allow players to set exclusions themselves, without even having to contact the customer service department. But again, it’s important for a problem gambler to choose a permanent option, rather than a temporary one.

Problem gamblers who frequent land-based establishments can also self-exclude, although the exact procedure will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The first step is to talk with an employee, who will then refer the person to security to fill out and sign a form. Photo identification is also required. After the process is complete, the person will be escorted out of the gambling establishment. If they re-enter and are identified on the premises, they can be cited for trespassing, and any winnings they accumulate will be confiscated.

Although most problem gamblers find self-exclusion useful, it is not a permanent solution to ending a gambling addiction in and of itself. The process is not foolproof, and it is almost never the gambling venue’s responsibility to ensure that the gambler does not return. However, most problem gamblers report that self-exclusion makes gambling much less attractive and allows them to make changes in their lives without being constantly tempted.

Finding alternative ways to spend free time

After stopping gambling, a problem gambler is often left with extensive periods of time that need replaced with other activities. It’s important for the person to identify what needs they were trying to satisfy by gambling and come up with other ways to meet them. Many people with gambling disorders have reported that talking with a support group, counsellor, or other confidant has helped them through this process.

Making amends with those affected

Gambling disorders almost always have a collateral effect, negatively impacting both the problem gambler and the people around him. Since the problem gambler now realises that they are responsible for what they did during the course of their addiction, they are also solely responsible for mending the relationships they have strained. This step is crucial to the problem gambler for rebuilding their reputation, strengthening their support network, and leading a productive, healthy life.