Coping techniques: Compulsive gambling

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

  1. Learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings such as sadness or anxiety rather than flee them with gambling. Consider that whatever gambling was intended to protect you from will come into your awareness as you decrease and cease the behavior.
  2. Therefore learn to recognize stress (tight muscles, stomach ache, clenched teeth or fists, shallow breathing) and develop techniques for decreasing bodily tension. These might include stretching, yoga, going for a walk or swimming. Mindfulness practice can be very effective in decreasing stress. One technique makes use of your senses. This can be visual (noting the colors of objects around you, focusing on a photograph or picture that makes you feel calm and safe), auditory (listening to calming music, identifying the different sounds in the environment), olfactory (light a scented candle, walk in a garden inhaling the fresh air), tactile (wrap yourself in a soft sweater or blanket, take a hot bath) or taste (sample different kinds of fruit or vegetables). With mindfulness practice you go slowly and let yourself focus completely and without judgment on the practice, setting aside any thoughts that come to you in order to focus on the sensual experience.
  3. And begin to explore and practice coping techniques for mood symptoms, which can include depression, anxiety, shame, grief or anger. Please refer to coping techniques for these on this website.
  4. Develop appropriate alternative behaviors to address the needs you tried to meet with gambling. For instance, to provide excitement, consider a challenging activity such as hiking, mountain biking or competitive sports such as tennis. For boredom, identify something that you feel passionate about and engage in that, such as charity work, political volunteering or educational coursework.
  5. More specifically learn to practice relaxation techniques on cue, so that you can practice them when you encounter cues for gambling, including your own thoughts, and in the presence of anxiety.
  6. At an early stage of recovery practicing harm reduction methods can be helpful. This means finding ways to limit the amount of money you bring to betting environments, or of deliberately not bringing credit cards or checkbook with you. It can also mean discussing your plans with friends, including setting intentions with them about how much time you’ll devote to gambling. It as well includes selecting environments where you’ll be physically safe and where there is the lowest risk for other problems. Gamble as a form of entertainment, not as a way to earn income. Don’t borrow money in order to gamble. Accept losing as the price of this entertainment and don’t chase your losses. Only use discretionary money for gambling, not money needed for rent, food or other necessities of life.
  7. As with most addictive behaviors gambling creates and thrives in an atmosphere of isolation and secrecy. Where appropriate, then, disclose the problem to people who will support your recovery from it. Break the isolation; bring people in to support you; increase your accountability to others.
  8. Limit your exposure to gambling. This includes making decisions on your vacation not to go someplace with casinos. It can mean changing the radio station or channel you’re accessing when a commercial for casinos or lotteries come on. It can also mean not accessing convenience stores with prominent displays of lottery tickets in the window or by the counter. It includes not playing games on your phone or home computer, and blocking access to gambling sites. Cues for gambling, from dice hanging from the rearview mirror of your car to decks of cards in your home to a gambling-themed song for your phone’s ringtone might be dispensed with. Consider who you associate with. If these are people with whom you have a gambling history it might be worthwhile to form alterative connections.
  9. Increase your awareness of triggers for gambling in order to support limiting your exposure. As well, increase your awareness for the signs that you’ve been triggered, which might be a sense of restlessness, bodily tension or an increased need for stimulation. Does boredom incline you to use gambling in order to increase your level of arousal?
  10. Notice any rationalizations you use to support gambling, such as “It’s my only vice,” “It relaxes me,” or “It’s my money to do with as I please.” Likewise notice any beliefs you have that support gambling. These might include ideas about gambling systems that will allow you to beat the odds, as well as about objects or actions that will bring you luck, or even divine intervention (“God will make sure I win when I really need to”). They might also include beliefs related to how often you can win, for instance, “Since I’ve just lost three times in a row I’m owed a win this next time.” How do you know that these beliefs are true? Can you test them or assess them for their relative truth content? Wonder where these rationalizations and beliefs came from. In many ways our culture is characterized by compulsion and addiction, so that these are fostered in us. And many of us who are addicts come from families with a history of addiction, so that these are fostered in us. Consider that change is possible, and that it becomes more likely with material that you have some awareness of.
  11. Attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings. For meetings in your area, as well as for online resources, access 12-Step meetings can provide a community of like-minded people who provide mutual support and accountability, as well as socialization in an environment free of triggers for gambling. It can as well provide pressure relief by placing you in a room with people who have longer periods of recovery than you might have.
  12. If you are the person in control of finances in your household, consider delegating that duty to your partner or other family member.
  13. As an adjunct to recovery, consider meeting with a financial consultant in order to address issues related to debt, as well as for assistance in developing a financial plan. Consider whether scheduling automatic payments from your bank might be preferable to handling money yourself.