How To Stop Gambling: 6 Helpful Tips From Experts (2023)

Many people consider gambling to be a harmless form of entertainment, but for individuals with a gambling addiction, the consequences of gambling may be severe and can negatively impact their personal and professional life, finances and relationships. While gambling addiction is a real and potentially serious mental health condition, there are many ways to find help.

Below, three mental health experts provide insight into this addiction, and share tips for recovery.

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Is Gambling Addiction Real?

Gambling addiction, or gambling disorder (GD), is a behavioral addiction that can lead to significant disruptions to daily life. Sharing similarities—such as signs, symptoms and inheritability—with substance use disorders, GD was recently redefined as a substance-related and addictive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). GD is a diagnosable condition that may lead to financial loss, bankruptcy, family conflict and more.

Behavioral addictions like GD are easily disregarded, says Daniel Hochman, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist in Austin, Texas, and founder of the online addiction recovery program Self Recovery. “Because gambling has been fairly normalized both socially and commercially, it’s hard for people to identify when it has crossed the line of an addiction,” he says. “But gambling addictions can be devastating. The financial ruin and time lost can end marriages, lose trust in relationships and lead to immense shame and self-hatred.”

Recent neuroimaging studies have shed light on important changes in brain activity for people with gambling addictions, says Lin Sternlicht, a licensed mental health counselor and the co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York City. For individuals with GD, the brain’s reward pathways are activated when they engage in gambling activities, Sternlicht notes, similar to how an individual with drug addiction might respond to stimuli.

“As a result of such changes in the brain, individuals facing a gambling addiction exhibit a pathological obsession and compulsion to gamble and can face tremendous difficulty stopping,” she adds.

How Do I Know If I Have a Gambling Problem?

For many people, gambling can be a harmless social activity. But for individuals with an addiction, gambling may cause significant harm to their finances, families and relationships.

You may have a problem with gambling if you exhibit four of these signs within a one-year period, according to the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Thrill-seeking behavior, needing to continually up the stakes while gambling
  • Irritability when attempting to control gambling
  • Frequent failed attempts to control gambling
  • Obsessive thoughts about gambling
  • Turning to gambling when upset
  • Lying to cover gambling habits
  • Choosing gambling over relationships or responsibilities
  • Making requests to family and friends for financial help

“As with any addiction, someone seriously addicted to gambling will likely continue on a downward spiral until they recognize the problem and seek help,” says Elliott Blitenthal, a licensed clinical social worker in Queens, New York. “Gambling addicts appear to have the same potential as other addicts to lose their wealth, jobs, families and relationships.”

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Expert Tips on How to Stop the Urge to Gamble

A gambling addiction can have devastating consequences if left untreated, says Sternlicht. In addition to incurring financial losses, straining relationships and impacting job or school performance, Sternlicht notes that GD may also cause significant harm to mental and physical health. “This is due to the psychological effects that gambling addiction can cause, such as feelings of deep despair, hopelessness, helplessness and shame,” she says, noting that individuals with gambling addictions have high rates of suicidal ideation. “It is important to address a gambling addiction as soon as possible.”

Here are six expert tips to help you address a gambling addiction.

1. Recognize the Problem

Before you can begin on your path to recovery, you first need to recognize that your gambling habits are the source of your distress. “The first step to addressing a gambling addiction is an awareness of the problem and a desire to change,” explains Sternlicht. Once you’ve acknowledged your gambling addiction, Sternlicht says there are many roads to recovery, such as addiction counseling and 12-step programs.

2. Remove the Stigma

There’s a significant social stigma associated with gambling addiction, says Sternlicht, sharing that individuals with GD are often stereotyped as weak-willed, irresponsible and culpable for their addiction. Internalizing these labels may lead to shame and low self-esteem, which in turn, may hold people back from seeking the treatment they need, Sternlicht adds.

Chipping away at this stigma isn’t easy, says Blitenthal, though he adds sharing what you’re going through helps. “The more gambling addicts share about themselves and their experiences, the more likely they are to influence and broaden others’ understanding,” he notes. “That process creates change one person and community at a time. As destigmatized conversations about gambling addiction increase, stigma decreases reciprocally, on both individual and societal levels.”

3. Confide in a Loved One

After you’ve acknowledged your problem gambling, Sternlicht recommends confiding in a friend or loved one. “If you feel overwhelmed or otherwise unable to seek out professional help, ask your loved one if they can assist you in the process,” she says.

Sharing your condition and asking for help accessing the resources you need may assist you in your recovery. “There is tremendous pain in not just having an addiction, but carrying the pain on your own,” adds Blitenthal.

4. Seek Professional Help

If you are having trouble controlling your gambling habits, Sternlicht says it may be time to seek professional help. To find an addiction specialist near you, she recommends searching online, contacting your insurance provider or reaching out to the National Council on Problem Gambling for a local referral.

“If you’re concerned about being able to afford professional care, know that there are always options available,” says Sternlicht. Many specialists in gambling addiction accept health insurance, she notes, adding that a call to your insurer for a list of in-network resources is a good place to start. “Other gambling specialists who don’t accept insurance may work on a sliding scale and be able to reduce the cost of their services in alignment with what you [can] afford,” she adds.

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5. Join Support Groups and 12-Step Programs

Don’t underestimate the power of community support. Finding a support group or attending a 12-step program can be critical to recovery, says Blitenthal. “Connecting with others who struggle with addiction—even if it isn’t gambling addiction—helps us to know that we’re not alone and that freedom from addiction is possible,” he says. “If there’s no Gamblers Anonymous meeting in your area, attending an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting that’s open to other addictions can be just as helpful.”

6. Adjust as Needed

Your path to recovery may need some calibrating as your needs change. “It’s important to continually reassess whether you are getting the right kind of help, or if you need to change your treatment approach,” says Dr. Hochman. “For example, I see people start with support groups or addiction-related coaches, but over time recognize they need to address underlying issues.”

No matter where you are in your addiction recovery, know that there is help available. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text ‘988’ for free, confidential and immediate help. You can also call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to access the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24/7 helpline.

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