How to Stop a Gambling Addiction
10 Tips to Fight the Urge to Gamble

Gambling addiction can be just as difficult to resist, and as destructive, as any substance-based addiction. Because the mechanism of addiction relies on an imbalance in the reward centre of the brain, no external chemicals are needed to cause a dependence on certain behaviours. The good news is that specialists now know how to stop a gambling addiction. By following the steps listed below, you can learn to overcome your compulsive gambling habit, and take control of your own life once again.
Before we can fight addiction, however, we first need to understand it.

Why is gambling addictive?

When most people think of addiction, what comes to mind are certain chemicals – alcohol, nicotine, heroin, and others – that re-configure your body’s internal processes until the body itself becomes physically dependent on their presence.
This picture is fairly accurate, but it leaves out the most important part of the equation. When these chemicals enter your system, they trigger your body’s internal reward system, releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain.
When external chemicals regularly cause your body to produce dopamine in this way, your body ‘learns’ that it doesn’t need to release this neurotransmitter on its own – it can simply wait for the automatic release caused by the external chemical. Because your brain really is dependent on receiving some measure of dopamine, and it has no way to receive that dopamine other than through the external chemical, your brain compels you to ingest the chemical again and again.
However, your body’s reward system isn’t activated by chemicals alone. Winning at gambling – or even the simple excitement of gambling itself – can cause the very same internal chemical rush. If left unchecked, frequent gambling can become problem gambling, and then develop into a full-blown addiction.

Gambling addiction and underlying mental health conditions

An additional factor to consider is the possible presence of other mental health issues, in addition to the gambling problem itself. The slide into addiction is much more common among people who are also experiencing another kind of psychological disorder, including substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or difficulty recovering from past trauma.
Other types of social imbalances, such as simple loneliness, can also lead to a person latching onto harmful behaviours like frequent gambling as a way of compensating for a lack of personal fulfillment in their everyday life.
When we consider how to quit gambling, it is important to recognise that any underlying mental health issues must also be addressed. Any victory over compulsive behaviour is likely to be short-lived if the conditions which gave rise to that behaviour are not also adequately addressed.

Can you cure a gambling addiction?

Ordinary gambling isn’t a disease, any more than occasional or recreational drug use is a disease. But these behaviours all carry with them the potential to develop into the disease of addiction, if continued with increasing frequency or used as a substitute for other forms of pleasure.
Just like other forms of addiction, compulsive gambling can indeed be cured. Gambling addicts can take clear and positive steps to take back control of their actions, and our list below provides several different approaches for how to stop a gambling addiction. Treatment options are also available for those who can’t quit on their own, and decide to seek professional help.

Signs you’re addicted to gambling

The path to recovery begins with understanding the problem and accepting the need for help to stop gambling. If the following signs mirror your own thoughts and behaviours, you may have a gambling problem that needs serious attention:
  • A strong desire to gamble large amounts of money or other goods
  • A reliance on gambling to relieve stress or boredom
  • Feeling restless or ill-tempered when not gambling
  • Thinking about gambling even when no gambling opportunities are present
  • Failed attempts to quit gambling
  • Lying to people around you about your gambling habit
  • Losing relationships due to gambling-related issues or disagreements
  • Having financial difficulties as a result of gambling
Game, unlucky and fail concept. Losing man playing cards with friends

How to fight the urge to gamble

When you experience a compulsive urge, you may not be able to think logically and rationally. The following recommendations will help you focus more on coping and prevention, rather than having to rely on calm reasoning.
If you believe that you have a gambling problem, here are some important steps to take:

1. Identify your triggers and avoid temptation. As the old saying goes: Know thyself. If particular people, locations, or activities lead you to think of gambling, avoid them altogether. Stay away from other gamblers, and places where gambling is likely to take place. Switch off live sporting events, and find other types of hobbies to pursue.

2. Stay around other people. People tend to give in to their cravings when they are alone. By spending more time with those close to you, you can take comfort in their presence and have a better chance of resisting urges as they come.
3. Delay giving in. To abstain entirely from gambling may seem impossible. If so, then aim for smaller victories: Resolve to wait 10 minutes before giving in. Then, if possible, wait another 10 minutes. Urges tend to lose their force over time, becoming weaker as you wait. At the very same time, these small victories can increase your willpower and self-confidence, leaving you with a better chance to say no in the end.
4. Find alternative activities. Idle hands typically lead toward temptation, so any healthy hobby that lets you stay busy and avoid boredom is likely to bring positive effects. Examples include joining a fitness class, going to the gym, running errands, or doing necessary chores to burn off your excess energy. Resisting addiction isn’t just about denial; it’s about replacing. When your mind and body are happily occupied with other things, addiction loses much of its force.
5. Live your life one day at a time. There will be opportunities later to work on long projects, and plan far into the future. For now, smaller victories will be far easier to manage, and getting through each day successfully should be your entire focus.
6. Ask friends and relatives for constructive support. Tell the people around you what’s going on, and ask trusted people in your inner circle to handle some of your financial responsibilities. Consider handing over your credit cards to them, until you can be trusted to exercise financial responsibility.
7. Find ways that help you cope with stress. Personal exercise, meditation, and even simple conversations with those around you can help lift some of the weight off your shoulders. Scheduled therapy sessions can add structure to the journey away from stress and back towards lasting self-control.
8. Write a gratitude list. To remind yourself of the positive aspects of life can be an intrinsically healing act. When we truly absorb the perspective that we already have plenty to be thankful for, it becomes easier to resist gambling’s relentless message of ‘I can get more’.
9. Improve your mood. Remember that other things besides gambling can make you happy. A nice swim, a walk through the woods, a get-together with old friends, listening again to your favourite album – these simple kinds of activities can put you in a better mood, doing wonders for your mindset and your mental health.
10. Limit substance use. It is difficult enough to keep control of your gambling habit when you are in full control of your faculties. By lowering your inhibitions still further, the use of drugs or alcohol can derail your effort to stay in command. Keep away from these substances, and remind yourself that the end goal of your efforts is to retake control of your life.

Resources to help stop gambling

There is no shame in seeking help for an addiction. The sooner you receive the treatment and support you need, the sooner you can get your life back on track once again. Gambling hotlines, organisations like GamCare, and dedicated gambling rehab centres are wholly devoted to helping people break free from the negative effects of gambling.
Help is always available from a variety of sources. The following tools and resources can be empowering for those who need extra support:

Gambling rehab

A full-service programme of counselling and residential care, rehab represents the single best answer to the question of how to stop a gambling addiction. Clients each receive an individual evaluation, after which they enter a personally tailored and scheduled treatment programme. Psychological treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy forms the heart of counselling sessions, and once the programme has been completed, the rehab centre typically guides the client forward as they re-enter society.

Apps to help you resist the urge to gamble

A growing number of apps are designed to help you leave gambling behind. App features include site-blockers (to prevent access to online gambling sites), online counselling and education, live support information, personal journals, and more. To find the right app for your situation, this list from an Irish website is a great place to start.

Meetings with peers

Groups like Gamblers Anonymous provide the same approach to support that predecessors like AA have delivered for people experiencing other forms of addiction. It is valuable and important to recognise that you are not alone. A support group can offer you valuable advice toward day-to-day living, as well as a welcoming community to join on your path to recovery.

Professional counselling

Addiction specialists have devoted their education, training, and careers to helping people with precisely the problems you now face. Counsellors use a variety of evidence-based methods for the benefit of their clients, helping people build the mental toolset they need to take back control of their lives.

Further information about how to quit gambling

Choosing the right rehab centre can be difficult without special consultation. With hundreds of facilities to choose from, there is plenty of variance in terms of quality, cost, environment, treatment approach, staff-to-client ratio, type of specialty, and more. In addition, it may be best to choose a rehab centre far from your area, in order to keep physically distant from any triggers as you work towards recovery.
If you’d like to talk about how to quit gambling, and which rehab centres in Thailand might be most appropriate for you, contact us using the information below. We give independent advice, and our consultations are entirely free and confidential.
Author
Cameron Brown
Psychologist
References
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  5. Ascension Seton. (n.d.). Paying for Treatment. Behavioral Health Care. https://www.seton.net/behavioral-health-care/contact/paying-treatment/.
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