Proven methods for overcoming your impulses and treating a gambling disorder
Whether you’re betting on your favorite footballer scoring, buying a lottery ticket, or putting it all on black – we all enjoy the occasional bet. The thrill and excitement that comes from checking whether you’re the multi-million-pound winner is a pastime enjoyed by millions.
Most of us do it for some harmless fun. We know the odds are against us, we don’t mind losing the money, and we know when to quit.
But for others, it’s much more serious. They can’t stop themselves, even when it’s harming them financially and the odds are against them. Gambling addiction is a disorder recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s characterized by recurring impulses and urges to gamble, where those suffering give gambling precedent over their interests and daily lives.
These behavioral tendencies, unless prevented, result in negative consequences. According to the North America Foundation, around 10 million Americans live with a gambling addiction. As many as 23 million have gone into debt because of gambling, and the average loss is $55,000.
What starts as a harmless pastime can quickly escalate into an addiction that could ruin your life.
Why Do We Get Addicted?
According to Dr. Ricardo Twumasi of Kings College London, Gambling addictions are akin to drug and substance abuse. The addiction stems from two separate reward pathways in the brain, which are linked to liking and wanting. “Liking” refers to the pleasurable associations we experience from an event, and “wanting” refers to the motivation we have from desiring that pleasurable thing.
According to Twumasi, gambling confuses these parts of our brain. When we place a bet the wanting remains constant, while the pleasurable feelings are reduced. So the addicted person has to engage in the behavior more to get their desired results.
This idea comes from BF Skinner’s 1969 study, which the design of Las Vegas slot machines was based on. He conducted an experiment where pigeons were given food every time they pressed a lever. He discovered that when food was given on random occasions (rather than on every press,) the pigeons pulled the lever more.
Like the pigeons, you like the positive associations that come from hitting the jackpot. Every time you place a bet, you could achieve that desired end. Gambling addiction relies on the belief that you could win at any moment, so you keep playing.
Stop Thinking You “Create Your Own Luck”
According to a psychological study undergone by Matthew Browne (et al) one reason gambling addicts keep wasting money, is because they think they can develop a system that will guarantee their success. Some people think they can “create their own luck,” while others believe that if they play for long enough, then they are guaranteed to win.
But neither of these tactics work. This mode of thinking commits to the Gambler’s Fallacy: which is the belief that the likelihood of random events happening can be increased by previous events or circumstances. For example, some people think the more you play a slot machine, the more likely you are to win – these machines have to pay out at some point, and you’re getting closer to that.
That’s not the case at all. Whether this is your first attempt or your fiftieth, and regardless of what strategy you might have – the odds of you winning stay the same. The takeaway from this is to stop placing bets on the assumption that, because of your previous losses, your betting is “bound to come good soon.”
Find Ways to Manage Your Stress
According to psychotherapist Noel Bell, stress, anxiety, and depression are leading causes of relapse in gambling recovery. For those who struggle to manage their emotions, gambling is an escape from reality. They use it to cope after a stressful day at work or an argument with a spouse. Or it could just be a way to alleviate boredom.
Whether you’re gambling or not, these triggers still exist. Rather than falling back into your gambling habits, you need to find healthy ways to deal with these daily struggles. This could come in many different forms, for Bell, physical exercise, meditation, or talking to a good friend are good coping mechanisms to swap gambling for.
Creating Financial Barriers
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our desires are too strong, and we can’t help ourselves. For those suffering a severe gambling addiction, the above tips might be useful, but probably won’t be enough to stop them from placing a bet. In cases like these, we need to create barriers that protect our financial and mental well-being. An effective option is to create financial barriers: get a debit card with a spending limit, or ask someone to look after your funds.
Creating that barrier prevents you from slipping back into your old habits. Rather than placing a bet without giving it much thought, you would have to make a conscious effort to do so. In cases where a friend is controlling your money, you would also have to justify this spending habit.
The problem with gambling in 2021, is that it’s always at our disposal. Online gambling websites never close and have almost no restrictions. For that reason, when creating a barrier, we recommend using website blocker software, like FocusMe, to stop yourself from visiting gambling websites.
For those suffering from gambling addiction, we recommend utilizing our “force mode,” which prevents you from changing your mind and locks you out of these sites for good.
Seek Professional Help
While this article offers science-backed ways to tackle it, gambling addiction comes in many different forms, and the severity varies from person to person.
If you are struggling to cope, and gambling is having a severely negative impact on your life, we recommend seeking professional help. You are not alone, and there are several free resources you can use. Gamcare offers free information, support, and counseling for problem gamblers, while the Gambling Therapy website offers online support and forums for victims of gambling addiction.