What is Gambling Addiction, and How to Get Help by Arnie Weller ICGC

My addiction started at age seven and, by age fourteen, I was stealing to support my gambling addiction.

My gambling addiction lasted till I was thirty years old and did much damage to myself, my family and everyone I came into contact with. My last bet was 4/10/68, opening day of the 1968 baseball season.

Compulsive gambling is a progressive disease, much like an addiction to alcohol or drugs. In many cases, the gambling addiction is hidden until the gambler becomes unable to function without gambling, and he or she begins to exclude all other activities from their lives. Inability to stop gambling often results in financial devastation, broken homes, employment problems, criminal acts and suicide attempts.

The gambler is eventually able to remove themselves from reality to the point of being totally obsessed with gambling. Eventually, they will do anything to get the money with which to stay in “action.” They will spend all their time and energy developing schemes in order to get the money to continue gambling. Lying becomes a way of life for the gambler.

They will try to convince others and themselves that their lies are actually truths and they will even begin to believe their own lies.

After a gambling addict hits a real bottom they will have to actively do something if they want to try to recover. Most gamblers who reach that point want to stop but can’t (they wont be able to).

Most, even at breaking point, will keep gambling. Some will end up in jail, some will attempt suicide. (The attempted suicide rate for gamblers is twenty times higher than for other addictions.) Some will die from their addictions as they will not take care of their health, or the stress will kill them.

A small group of addicted gamblers will seek and find real help, but the real trick is to get in to true recovery, not just abstinence. By the time the gambler comes looking for help, they have broken brains (meaning that their brains don’t work in the same way they used to before the damage of their addiction).

To achieve true recovery, gamblers need to work on themselves, one day at a time, and find someone who has been in recovery for a while whose brain is working as it should (a sponsor) to do their thinking for them. After some time in recovery, the brain will begin to function normally. They will become productive in their job, and become a good parent and spouse. Recovery is a process and does not happen without a lot of work, like making a moral and financial inventory. People can recover, and do.

As with other addictions, it is not unusual for compulsive gamblers to have cross-addictions. An addict may have switched addictions early on, or they may have been cross-addicted throughout their history. It is also important to note that gambling addicts may also pick up a new addiction while trying to recover from their gambling problem.

Many people go for treatment for drugs or drinking and also have a gambling problem, but it’s never addressed in treatment. As in most cases, gambling is not asked about in treatment or the center doesn’t have someone on staff who understands gambling addiction. So, the client goes home and keeps on gambling. Soon, they are heading into a relapse of their other addictions. In no time, they will be looking for treatment again. Hopefully, at that point, the client will be ready to address the gambling problem and may end up in a treatment center that knows something about gambling addiction! The other thing that happens is that someone goes for treatment for another addiction, then gets out of treatment and is recovering from that addiction, and starts to gamble and that becomes a gambling addiction.

To recover from a gambling addiction the gambler is well advised to get themselves into a twelve-step program specifically for gambling addictions.

Family involvement will enhance the treatment process. Family members should not try to bail out the gambler as bailouts are detrimental to the gamblers’ recovery. Family members may also feel the need to find a road to recovery for themselves.

Here are the symptoms the DSM describes:

Persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the following characteristics in a twelve month period:

1. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.

2. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.

3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.

4. Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).

5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).

6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (known as “chasing” one’s losses).

7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.

8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of their gambling.

9. Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

Compulsive gamblers (and their families) can recover from this devastating addiction. This process takes time and effort. During, and after treatment, gamblers needs to continue attendance at GA meetings. They need to find a sponsor, have a pressure relief meeting to aid in financial recovery, and continue to learn and live the twelve steps of recovery.

The family can also attend Gamanon in order to find healing and understanding from the effects of living with the gambling problem.

However difficult an addict’s life becomes, like all other seemingly hopeless addictions, there is also a solution to the  gambling addiction.

Arnie Wexler is a Certified Compulsive Gambling Counselor (CCGC), and was the Executive Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey for eight years. He co-authored the bestselling book  All Bets Are Off with his wife Sheila Wexler. For more information, see: http://aswexler.com/arnie-wexler

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