Gambling addiction is increasingly prevalent, and can result in financial and emotional ruin for entire families. Gambling is now at our fingertips through online sites. The popularity of card games like Texas Hold ’em Poker has surged in recent decades, thrusting high-stakes card tournaments into public attention, and making television celebrities out of World Series of Poker champions like Chan and Chris Moneymaker. Sports betting has also grown exponentially and there is increasing discussion of legalizing it from the federal level.
It is estimated that 4 to 6 million people are problem gamblers in the U.S., at least 25% of which live in California. Here in Southern California, gambling has become more and more accessible with the founding and growth of casinos such as San Manuel, Pechanga, and Morongo, as well as the ever present attraction of Las Vegas as a popular weekend destination. The Southern California gambling industry has also thrived in part due to the local presence of large immigrant groups having roots in such places as Southern China, Vietnam, and Armenia, where gambling is a common form of recreation.
If you believe you have a gambling addiction, have lost significant amounts of money from gambling, or have faced other significant negative consequences as a result of your gambling, there are a range of things you can do to help take back control of your life.
5 Tips to Help You Control Your Gambling Addiction
1 – Identify Triggers: What triggers your urge to gamble? Are there certain days of the week (e.g., Fridays) that make you want to go to a casino? Do certain words (e.g. “cards,” “stakes,” “casino,” etc.), thoughts (e.g. “I’ll just play one hand’, or “I’ve earned the right to play today”), emotions (e.g. depression, frustration), or physical reminders (billboard or casino ads) make your mind turn to entertain thoughts of gambling? Awareness of these specific contexts or triggers can help you be extra careful not to repeat the gambling behavior when confronted with that urge.
2 – Share your struggle with someone: Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your gambling problem. Being open about something you are struggling with can help relieve the sense of secrecy and shame, as well as provide some outside accountability to help you stay on track. Try to first share with someone who you are confident will be supportive and understanding about this issue.
3 – Review your gambling catastrophes: Mentally revisit the incident when you suffered your worst gambling loss or faced the worst consequences resulting from gambling. This can certainly be very uncomfortable but can also help remind you of what will likely happen if you gamble again.
4 – Come up with alternatives to gambling: Identify other healthy and enjoyable activities that you can schedule in advance to minimize idle time (and minimize time that could lead to gambling). Such activities may be as simple as spending more time with friends and family, exercise/sports, reading, or cultivating a new hobby.
5 – Consider seeing a professional who can help: Consult with a mental health professional or therapist that specializes in helping people with gambling problems. In California, there are a number of free specialized gambling services in the community. However, if gambling losses have truly built up over time, investing in CBT to get better can certainly be a more worthwhile investment than continued gambling and further financial and emotional hardship. TAKE A GAMBLE ON THERAPY! If you’ve read this and believe you are ready to make changes, then your odds of managing this problem effectively are quite favorable.
Martin Hsia, Psy.D. is the Assistant Director of CBT SoCal, and specializes in helping people with OCD and Anxiety in Glendale, CA.