Plenty of people can buy lottery tickets or visit the racetrack or casino and have a great time, but if you have a gambling addiction, it’s not about having fun. If your gambling (betting or wagering based on predicting an outcome, which can but does not always involve money) is causing problems in your life – and is getting worse – it’s likely that you have developed a gambling addiction. The addiction can develop slowly over a number of years, or it can happen very quickly. Gambling addicts lose control over their behavior. The roots of a gambling addiction can often be traced to the adolescent years. More men than women have gambling addictions but women gamblers tend to become addicted to the behavior more quickly. Many gamblers also have substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, or nicotine) issues or addictions.
Common characteristics of a person with an addiction to gambling include:
- An inability and unwillingness to accept reality. Gamblers disappear into the activity with little or no regard for responsibilities to work or family or to the consequences of their behavior.
- Insecurity. Compulsive gamblers feel their best when they are gambling – in other parts of their lives, they experience uncertainty and discomfort.
- Immaturity. Gambling addicts believe they deserve to be able to bypass traditional ways of accumulating wealth like working hard and saving money. They want the good things in life without having to put in much effort.
- Need for attention. People who are addicted to gambling feel powerful when they are engaged in this behavior. They like to be noticed and want to maintain a winning image.
- Self-doubt. Many gamblers have a subconscious desire to punish themselves – either for something they’ve done and feel ashamed of or because of a lack of self-worth that goes all the way back to childhood.
Believing in Yourself
A common misperception about gambling is that it’s about money, but it isn’t. In fact, when it comes to cleaning up the mess they’ve made of their lives, many former gambling addicts say that the financial aspects were the easiest part!
The real work to be done involves learning to believe in your value as a human being and learning to trust yourself to protect your place in the world.
The time to begin is now. Research clearly shows that what you are motivated to do has a direct impact on what you actually do. Believing that something (good) will happen makes it much more likely to occur.
Starting today, take ten minutes at the end of the day (pick the time most convenient to you – at the end of your workday, after dinner, or before going to sleep at night) to review the day’s events. Most days have both good and bad experiences and it’s not a bad idea to take note of both types, keeping two lists. This exercise, however, focuses on the things that went well in your day.
After you’ve made your list of positive things that happened – accomplishments, moments when you felt happy, good conversations you had, even finishing a challenging workout – review your list. Identify the personal characteristic or trait that allowed you to have this positive experience. (For example, if you feel good about a conversation with your son, your trait might be “I’m a good, loving father.” If you closed a deal at work, your note may say “I’m good at sales because I understand how to talk to people.”)
Why this helps:
Changing any behavior is difficult because our brains are wired to repeat old behaviors. A hundred billion neurons, working in harmony, give rise to the “I” you think of as yourself. Groups of neurons are responsible for generating and modifying your thoughts, feelings, and resulting behavior. There is a neurological pathway for each negative thought you have. Those pathways have grown strong over the period of time you’ve been developing and living as a gambling addict.
You can change those pathways when you challenge them with fresh, new insights. When you begin to challenge old, negative thoughts, new connections form. Each time you have a new insight and understanding into who you are, your brain becomes different.
It is important to recognize that both the problem and the solution reside within you. You are whole. The gambling-free future you wish for is a vision you are capable of reaching. By raising your self-awareness and focusing on your positive traits, you can find the true nature of who you are and how you got to be this person. This new information will allow you to make better decisions and live the life you truly desire.
In order to step back and take control over your gambling problem, you’ll need to create a new self-image and learn new ways to feel good about yourself.