Compulsive and Problem Gambling

Everybody wants to win.  Nobody likes to lose.  But what happens for gamblers when it starts to become a problem.   We can’t handle the winning and losing cycle.  We get stuck in the vortex of winning and losing or rather losing and sometimes winning.  What is wrong?


There are many factors:  neurophysiology, biological, emotional, relational and even spiritual.  People without the problem can easily wonder, “why would someone take most of their paycheck and throw it away on gambling?”  We wonder ourselves, often in a shaming and self loathing way. Consider it a mystery.

Know your enemy
To get free, one must understand the enemy.  One must have a clear understanding of the problem and the solution.  Then one must put together a plan of action, or as some would call it, “a recovery program.”

Here are two questions to ask yourself?
Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?

Have you ever had to lied to people important to you about how much you gambled?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might consider that gambling is beginning to become a problem.  Spending more money than you planned means that you are beginning to lose control.  Lying about gambling indicates that we are not having a realistic viewpoint of where we really are.  Problem gamblers do not like tracking or following the money.  Keeping the amount in one�s head and keeping the total amounts vague keep the compulsion alive. How do I know I am addicted to gambling?

Here are some additional revised questions to consider from the South Oaks Gambling Screening (SOGS).

Has anyone else in your family had a gambling problem?
What was the biggest bet you have every placed in one day?
Have you ever gone back another day to win your money back?
Do you ever feel that gambling has become a problem?

Answering yes to any of these questions could mean that you have a problem with gambling.

The Physiology of Problem Gambling
Problem gamblers get stuck.  We can’t walk away from the slot machine or the table.  Just one more time we say, but we stay there one more hour.  There is a center in our brain called the “Cingulate Gyrus.” This area has to do with attention. It is the “channel changer” in our brain. When this works well, we are able to see options, have cognitive flexibility and be able to shift our attention from one idea to the next. When it doesn’t work well, we get STUCK, not being able to get a thought, worry or resentment out of our minds. People who an overactive “Cingulate Gyrus” tend to hold on to resentments from the past, worry a lot, and their brains gets into a lock-in mode. These people often come from alcoholic homes. Addiction is appealing to them. It momentarily takes away the obsession and resentment and numbs it with pleasant feelings. But the obsession becomes switched to the obsession to gamble again.  The cingulate gyrus also is affected in cocaine, sexual addiction and compulsive overeating.   Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist whose clinics have looked at more that 30,000 SPECT brain scans has provided us with a lot of useful information regarding addiction. His website, is very helpful.

12 Step Programs – Gamblers Anonymous
Gamblers Anonymous and other 12 step programs have helped countless individuals who have struggled with addiction. The steps are simple spiritual processes that when utilized help people overcome what they could not do on their own. These principles, even though they appear simplistic, are pretty profound and life changing once they are explored, understood and practiced.

The Illusion of Control
Problem gamblers often feel like they are in control. When things are spinning our of control in their lives they go to the casino to help them feel like there is something they can choose to do.  Troubles with money and one�s  family create more stress, so we use more and more.  The outcome is pretty much the same.  We lose more than we win.  So we know the outcome, unless we do win and then we feel a pseudo-sense of control about this also.  It is like have problems on my farm so I chase a tornado, get caught up in the funnel and it takes me for a ride.  I just think I am in control, because I “choose” to be swirled around and around.  I think it is going to take me to the Land of Oz and the Emerald City.  But I end broke and broken – emotionally, physically and relationally.   I then have to ignore the damage.   There is a way out.

The Four Paradoxes of Recovery
In recovery, paradoxes become evident with time in a program of recovery.
We surrender to win.
We give away to keep.
We suffer to get well.
We die in order to live.

We SURRENDER TO WIN. We need to totally surrender unconditionally.  We acknowledge that we cannot win the battle against addiction and have totally made a mess of our life.  We are better off if we stop running our life and let God run it for us.  We pray in Step 11, “asking only for God’s will and the power to carry it out.”  We are like a prisoner of war who surrenders with our hands up and we do whatever our higher power tells us to do.

We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP. This strange expression identifies our selfishness and understanding that we can only be healed as “we give away what God has given us.”  “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)  When we are hoarding, greedy and stingy we are likely to use our addiction again as we have left a state of Grace.

We SUFFER TO GET WELL. There is no way to escape pain or suffering in this life.  It is a truth that most alcoholics as well as most people try to ignore.  The alcoholic, drug addict and sex addict use their substance to avoid suffering.  This is why they use.  Many people reserve the term alcoholic for those that really suffer–shaking, needing another drink, getting sick from drinking.  But perhaps they are numbing themselves in minor ways and are too out of touch with themselves to identify that they are drinking as a form of self medicating.  To recover, we must go through the pain.  We must learn to be mature and to face reality.  Thankfully, the 12 steps help us face reality with the Grace of God.

We DIE TO LIVE. This beautiful paradox comes right out of the biblical idea of “losing our life” (Matt. 10:39) and denying one’s self and carrying one’s cross. (Matt. 16:24) The harder we hold on to our life, the more it slips through our fingers without us realizing it. (We call this white knuckling it)  But when we empty ourselves of our ego, and die to our dreams, our will and our ways, God will give us life.  We must die daily.  While we may decide to surrender at a certain point of time, we must surrender every moment, so as to acquire God’s grace to keep us sober.  This only comes through death, his and ours.

Solutions for Problem Gambling

Getting into counseling can be a first step.  Admitting that you have a problem and can’t stop is good start.  Some people hand over the money to a loved one or ban themselves from a casino.  While this may look drastic we see that this is simple, …hard to do…but can be life saving.

Gamblers Anonymous – 12 step for Compulsive Gambler
20 Questions for Compulsive Gamblers

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9623 32nd St SE A110
Lake Stevens, WA  98258


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