- Relying on gambling to meet one's financial goals is folly. So why do so many men keep chasing their losses?
- Ask yourself some honest questions about your gambling and gain some perspective on your addiction.
- We show you how to create hurdles to gambling to help curb or stop your addiction before it costs you more than money.
Gambling is pretty logical, as far as addictions go
Some people have this weird belief that addiction indicates that they have some sort of flaw or problem that they’re trying to escape. Whilst that is true in some cases, that doesn’t completely characterise gambling, because what makes gambling addiction unique is the belief that you will win money.
And if you can come out ahead with your early bets, then it's a pretty logical way to behave into the future.
Short-term wins, long-term losses
As a side note, how's this for a fact... the concept of 'beginner's luck' is very real, and very true (and is even backed by real studies).
How is that possible? Well, when you study a population of gamblers, lots of them had won big at the start. In hindsight, success looks a lot like luck, so people started calling it that.
In many forms of gambling, there is some skill, but lots of luck and (especially in electronic gambling) things out of your control.
Who's the meat in the sandwich?
Gambling becomes dangerous when we start thinking that we can somehow beat the system and win money for all sorts of reasons - whether it’s to help us pay our bills, or get out of debt.
For gambling companies to exist from their winnings, someone has to lose. Someone is the meat in the sandwich.
It might just be you.
But what about successful gamblers?
There are professional poker players and professional sports betters. There a professional stock exchange investors too – they're also gamblers. They all pay the bills with the punt.
But, they're what's known in statistics as 'outliers'. They are the exception, and you can't join their ranks unless you behave the way they do.
What these guys often have is the ability to make decisions without emotion (or beers in the system). The best poker players can do this.
For other sports, the successful few are quite often companies of lots of people who have invested in betting systems to making smart bets (and even computer algorithms to do so). They vet each other's decisions before plunging in, whereas for us mere mortals... how many of our mates don't egg us on?
The lifecycle of a gambler
Any gambler knows the euphoric feeling of winning money.
Yes, money won is twice as sweet as money earned. At the start, gambling and winning money felt good and didn't effect your wellbeing. You had a sense of knowing what to do. You were in control, and losing wasn’t that bad.
Doing it more often
But as life changes, your gambling changes. You start to do the double takes at the ATM, you become a 'regular' and soon enough, build a rep as a high roller. You then might start noticing you’re in a little debt and now you need a win to square things up. Hell, you have responsibilities and bills that you need to juggle.
The fun goes out of it
You start to feel weird sense of relief when you run out of money because now you can go home from a gambling binge, like you're not enjoying the act of betting, only the outcome.
And for the mobile phone sportsbetters, when did you start gambling at work?
Admitting a harsh truth is never fun
If you’re here reading this, you’re probably either thinking that you might have a gambling issue, or someone close to you might be and you’re worried for them.
Ask yourself (or them), when did your gambling stop being fun, and when did it start becoming about winning money?
Gambling is at its most dangerous when we start being dishonest about it; where we start “borrowing” money and using it to gamble with the intent of putting it back before anyone even noticed it was gone in the first place.
You might be at that point, you might not. But you're on the right track by being here.
As a psychologist who gets clients of all sorts of addictions, this is a guide that offers bite-sized tips on how you (or they) can try to overcome those struggles, and come up with your (or their) own customised formula that works in curbing the urges.
Lots of people have given it up
You can do the same.
Questions to start with
Get ready to have a think and quickly reflect.
Let’s start with a few screener questions to check whether or not you/they have a gambling problem:
- Have you spent a lot of time (two weeks or longer) thinking about gambling?
- Have you ever tried to cut down, or control your gambling?
- Have you ever lied to family members or friends about how much you gamble, or how much money you’ve lost from gambling?
- Has gambling caused you repeated problems in your relationships?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of the above, then you can continue.
Customise your recovery
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to this; you gotta find what works for you.
Now I’m not going to spend time making you feel bad about it. I know you already do; it’s really shitty when we lose money. It’s feels terrible. And I’m sure you’ll appreciate some advice on what you can do about it - but I’m not going to tell you what to do.
Everyone is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that helps you derail your gambling habits. But what I can do for you, is to hand you some tricks I’ve shared with my clients on how they can kick their gambling habits to the curb. Full disclaimer - these tips aren’t a substitute for getting professional help, just a few practical tips to try.
Here’s a couple of things you can try:
Create some hurdles to gambling
Leave your wallet / cards at home
This might sound so simple, but how can you gamble if you have no means of doing so? Especially when you know that you usually go out and hit the casino or pop into a nearby TAB on those Wednesdays - leaving your wallet/bank card at home can be super effective.
Setting aside a special bank account just for gambling
Some clients transfer an amount into that bank account which they only use for gambling. So when the amount runs out, it requires them to go great lengths to transfer more money into that account.
Delete the apps (for sports betting)
Yes, yes, reinstalling would be easy. But when you’re bored and you get all fidgety with your phone, that’s one less thing you can do straight off the bat. Think about it as a little hurdle to trigger that “can’t be bothered” feeling.
Exclude yourself from the venue
This is pretty dramatic, but it really affects you psychologically because you think “I don’t want to be the person to get kicked out of a venue.” (FYI: Self-exclusion is a real program that you can sign up for, and when the gaming staff see you, they ask you to leave.)
Reducing the harm / risk
This is helpful if you simply need to have a punt, or are having a hard time going completely cold turkey.
Minimise the bet
We know that there’s always a big bet or small bet. If you’re just trying to have a bit of fun, or to escape your stress, then you can play one cent bets (on pokies) or one dollar wagers (sports/racing) without losing a huge chunk of your money. If you’re struggling with this, then you know your gambling is really about winning money.
Commit to somewhere you need to be
By promising someone that you have to meet them somewhere after a short controlled session of gambling gives you that added responsibility of not being a dick and bailing on someone you care about.
Rules for controlled play
Limit yourself to how much you can gamble. If you don’t want to leave any of your credit cards or wallet at home, why set up some hard rules for safe play and share it with someone? Like… “I can’t play more than x amount of dollars today.” or, “The moment I lose x amount, I have to leave and go home.” Commit to that rule.
Be deliberate about it
If you’re going to do it, at least be deliberate about it. See if you can really stick to a time and place that you’ve set for yourself (e.g. “I’m going to play for x amount of minutes and after that I will leave.”). If you can’t, then at least you’d realise how much it has been getting out of hand.
Bring limited cash
By only bringing a limited amount of cash to gamble with, it will require more effort for you to have to go back and forth to the ATM. Hopefully, that added effort might give you enough time to realize what you’re doing, which might help you in deterring you from proceeding.
Avoiding the triggers completely
Take a break
We know that things can turn into habits sometimes, and even gambling can grow into patterns. See if you can go for a few days without it, then try challenging yourself to hold off gambling for a week, then a few weeks, then a month, and so on and so forth. Break the pattern.
The 4 Ds
Distract yourself long enough until the urge to gamble passes. Here are the core skills for dealing with urges. 4 Ds:
- Deep breaths help you prepare yourself psychologically to deal with it, calmer minds make better decisions.
- Distract yourself by doing something else to get your mind off it.
- Delay; if you really think you have to do it, then procrastinate the urge! Make it, say, 5PM the next day. But commit to reassess at 4PM, then delay again.
- Decide after thinking about your last serious loss. Bring up that sick sinking feeling then decide if you still feel like gambling. Usually by this point, the urge is weaker and you can move forward and break the pattern
Spend time with friends who don’t gamble
If you tend to hang out with friends who love gambling, you’ll be hard pressed to make a change in you habits. Start by making the effort to hang out with non-gambling friends (there is always at least one), this will help remind you there are other things worth doing, free up some mental space and help deal with some of the triggers.
When you know that the TAB or the pokies at that bar that’s conveniently located on your way home gives you the urge to play, take a different route home.
Find new ways to unwind
If you know that the urge to gamble usually comes from your need to unwind, consciously try and use other methods to unwind. Why not go and watch a movie, grab a bite with a friend, punch someone in the face by starting boxing classes, or do all of that? Spend that money that you would have normally lost gambling and instead spend it on yourself. Do that for a month and you’ll discover what activities can replace gambling for good.
No matter what we can try and suggest, you’re obviously always going to be able to outsmart yourself. But the point here is to try and see which one works for you, or switch it up from time to time.
Now that we’ve shared with you all those tactics above, why not try out one tactic from each category per day, or per week, and see how it goes? Change it up if some tactics don’t work for you, and repeat, until you find a set of ways that works for you.
“But what if it doesn’t work?”
Put simply: if you never try, you’ll never know.
And if it just so happens that you did manage to try all the above, and found none of them effective, well… Then it might be worth considering that your gambling addiction has indeed become that severe, and that help from a professional might be useful at this point.
By the time you reach that point, how can you not afford a psychologist? You might be spending hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars down the drain every week already. The cost of therapy is not as much as what most people would expect compared to your losses (which will inevitably get worse). Through therapy, we can help you figure out what makes gambling addiction so personally difficult for you to tackle.
About the author
Dr. Luke Vu
A Sydney-based registered psychologist with a mission to empower others to break free from whatever it is holding them back from achieving their full form. Luke has helped - and continues to help - people overcome a variety of struggles, including all sorts of addictions, depression, anxiety and relationship problems using no-nonsense, evidence-based methods.