Ask an Expert: How Do I Stop Gambling?

By Margaret Ann Fetting 06/06/16

Is gambling like other addictions? Our expert explains the similarities and how to know when your gambling is becoming problematic.

Ask an Expert: How Do I Stop Gambling?
Game over.

Dear Expert,

About a year ago, they built a casino about an hour away from where I live and work. When it opened, I took my wife there for a weekend—nice property, nice restaurants. I spent some time in the casino that first trip—no big deal. But then I wanted to go back, although my wife wasn't too interested. I've managed to convince her to go with me a few times, but I've also started going there myself without telling her. So far I haven't lost enough money to make a big difference, but I feel like it's becoming something I can't stop doing. I get "high" when I'm on my way there (and unfortunately pretty low when I lose money). Is gambling any different than other addictions? And, what suggestions can you give me to help me stop? 

Margaret Fetting: How healthy and encouraging that you are reaching out for support at this early stage in your relationship with the “active activity” of gambling. Technically, gambling is considered a non-substance-related disorder that can be diagnosed or seen as mild, moderate or severe.

There are several signs that a gambling problem is escalating, including the tendency to gamble increasingly large amounts of money in order to achieve the same "high," difficulty cutting down on gambling, having persistent thoughts about gambling, gambling when feeling distressed, and lying about the extent of one's gambling habits. When the problem intensifies, it can jeopardize relationships or careers and create desperate financial situations. So it is great that you are giving serious thought to your relationship with the casino at what seems like a very early stage.

​Gambling may share many similarities with ​substance use disorders, such as increased desire to engage in the behavior and a growing sense that you may have "lost the ability to manage this impulse." A good question is to consider what the experience is doing for you. Is it self-medicating feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety or isolation that you may not be aware of on a conscious level​? ​Your gambling may be a temporary solution for some deeper concerns. 

​Obviously, since the vast majority of people who gamble wind up losing money, you might consider trying to simply stop. ​It sounds like the duration of the problem is well under a year, and it's quite possible that if you try to stop completely, you won't find it all that difficult. On the other hand, should you find that it is difficult to stop, I would encourage you to seek out a mental health professional with experience in this realm. Many casinos actually provide referral information for gamblers who feel they are getting in over their heads. Good luck!

Margaret Fetting has been practicing, teaching and writing in the Addiction and Substance Use Disorders field for nearly three decades. Full bio.

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