Why it’s so hard to give up gambling

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Maybe you know someone, a family member or someone close…

Maybe it’s you…

Gambling is something that touches everyone at some point in their lives, either directly or indirectly.

So, why am I talking about it? Well, because it’s often a taboo subject. A topic that is hard to talk about and many people like to hide.

But let’s face the facts there is approximately 10 million people or 2.6% of the United States population struggling with gambling.

According to recent statistics the industry pumps 137.5 billion dollars into the United States’ economy and employs around 730,000 people. The growing market with gambling is online gambling, with a predicted market value of $59 billion by the year 2020 (an increase of 20 billion dollars in 5 years).

That’s big numbers. That’s worth talking about.

So why is it so hard to give up gambling or an addiction?

Gambling revenue has dramatically increased in the past 5–10 years.

Well, it is hard to give up because gambling produces chemicals (dopamine) in your brain. Essentially it rewires your brain. It creates dependency and begins to equate gambling with pleasure.

As time goes on, it starts to become second nature. You may spend a small amount of time and money gambling at first, but after a few weeks or months, it becomes more of a regular occurrence. You then start spending larger amounts of money…

Next thing you know it, you are waking up in the morning, completely broke, frustrated and addicted.

Gambling triggers the same areas of the brain as drugs and alcohol do, according to a study conducted by international scientists and released by the Imperial College of London. This could be the reason why your attempt to give up often falls short. The same areas of the brain that control impulses are also weakened in those with a gambling addiction.

The brain is a key focus for researchers studying addictive behaviours.

“The study, funded by the UK Medical Research Council, found that two brain areas, called the insula and nucleus accumbens, are highly active when people with gambling addiction experience cravings.” These areas of the brain are associated with decision-making, reward and impulse control and are often triggered when one has an alcohol or drug dependency (or gambling addiction).

The question really is, if you are addicted, what can you do about it?

Well you must remember it is a disease which impairs one’s mental capacity. It should be addressed like anxiety, depression or other disorders.

You must be aware of the triggers. Triggers can include; being near by a gambling venue, receiving a deposit of money into a bank account, feeling stressed or anxious or even being a bit bored.

Know Your Odds an initiative of the New York Council on Problem Gambling identify that emotions have a particular role to play in gambling. Emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration and even happiness may trigger off a gambling episode. One must recognise the triggers and work on relieving them.

Below are some strategies I attest to and have tried;

  • starting up a journal and tracking daily events
  • taking up a new fulfilling hobby or interest to distract you
  • limiting access to your money and your bank account
  • joining a local Gamblers Anonymous group
  • drawing/painting how you feel when you feel like gambling
  • exercising and releasing pent up energy
  • confiding in a friend or loved one about how you feel
  • finding a Facebook group or forum to support you
  • commencing counselling with a trained psychologist specialising in gambling addiction
Painting is a therapeutic activity to distract one from gambling urges.

Combating stress is important…

Paul Huljich of Psychology Today addresses some of the issues surrounding stress and addiction in his article on coping mechanisms. He believes that many of us are addicted to the “dopamine high” that comes with various addictive behaviours. Thus we will gamble over and over to reach this high.

So think about forming a positive habit to replace your gambling, something that gives you a natural high.

You must form a new habit to break your addiction.

There is a societal notion that a habit takes approximately 21 days to become second nature. However, according to a recent scientific study by the University College of London, habits actually take a lot longer to form.

Participants of the study were asked to try a new activity which they could stick with. It took participant’s an average of 66 days to form a new habit. This study shows that the act of forming a habit takes quite a while for one to get used to.

So as you are working on giving up, remember it takes time. Just like learning to ride a bike it takes a lot of practice. You will fall off the bike many times. Sometimes you will really hurt yourself. You must get right back up again and ride again, that’s part of recovery process.

Just like riding a bike giving up gambling takes practice.

It also takes a great deal of patience to give up. Nothing good will happen overnight. Patience is the key.

Remember to not lose hope. No matter how hard it becomes and no matter how many times you cry, there is always hope.

Have you heard that saying by novelist Frederick Maryat; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?”

You must be persistent in trying different strategies to combat the cravings. Not one strategy will work for all people. There is not a one-size fits all. You must try a myriad of strategies until you find the ones that will work for you.

With each relapse comes a renewed strength and vigour. Always remember that many people have overcome this debilitating addiction before…

Make sure to harness your positive energy and use it to propel you forward. Use the knowledge that you gain from each relapse to inspire your future decisions.

Give yourself credit for a good job too.

People don’t give themselves credit where credit is due and often underestimate their strength. Being strong is a quality that many gamblers possess and they wear pain and hurt almost as a badge of honour. This kind of strength you can use to your advantage, if you are wise.

Giving up gambling is hard to do, there is no question about that, but you can give up if you really want to.

So the steps you should take right away include:

1. Always remembering your triggers

2. Staying safe and stay away from gambling venues

3. Distracting yourself (positively)

Talking can help with addiction.

4. Talking to a friend or loved one about your cravings

5. Speaking to a trained specialist in gambling addiction

It takes time, careful research and planning to give up, but it is definitely worth it in the long run.

Long term abstinence begins by combining the above strategies and coming up with a winning formula. Incorporate your strategies into a plan and apply determination to give yourself a fighting chance.

So…all is not lost. If you fail at giving up, just dust yourself off and get back on the bike. Start fighting once more — your new life is awaiting you!

If you have a problem with gambling or someone you know; there is help out there. Call the National Problem Gambling Hotline on Toll Free 1–800–522–4700.

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  1. Johnathan says:

    Interesting article! I like the fact you provide steps that one can take to overcome their addiction. I used to be addicted to some medications, but I fought it and I ended up winning. Took me 10 years but I finally got there.

    But I definitely agree that attending Gamblers Anonymous or AA or Narcotics Anonymous are helpful for those who are struggling with addiction.

    The good thing is you can be rid of your addiction if you really believe in yourself and are determined.

    1. Ally says:

      Thanks so much for the support Johnathan! This is exactly why I started my blog to help others just like me. Gambling or any other addiction can be beaten if you are persistent and keep giving up over time. For me what worked was, not gambling for 1 day, then I increased it to 2 days, then eventually I gave up for good. I haven’t been going to GA meetings as of yet, I am strong enough on my own. But may go back to GA soon. Thanks for the post! 🙂

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