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Learn / Breaking Free: A Guide on How to Quit Gambling

Breaking Free: A Guide on How to Quit Gambling

By 
Kayla Gill
|
 January 26th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Gambling addiction is a diagnosable disorder with severe consequences.
  • Self-assessment tools can help you gauge the severity of your gambling.
  • Recovery options include a DIY quitting plan, professional rehab, and support groups.

Pathological gambling is a global public health concern affecting 0.12 to 5.8% of people worldwide. In the U.S., over 2 million people fall into this category. 

Gambling is legal in every state except for Utah and Hawaii. Because it’s widely accepted, many people don’t realize when their gambling has become an issue. Problem gambling has devastating personal costs beyond financial debt, escalating into legal and mental health issues. 

When you’re struggling with problem gambling, life feels out of control. But gambling addiction is treatable, and the sooner you address it, the better your recovery outcomes will be. 

This guide will help you assess the severity of your gambling and create a personalized plan to quit, so you can reclaim your life. 

Understanding Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is a diagnosable disorder1 characterized by continuous gambling despite negative physical, psychological, and social consequences. 

The Impact of Problem Gambling 

Problem gambling extends far beyond occasional bets or casino visits. It’s a harmful habit that strains your mental health and relationships:

Risk Factors and Triggers

While anyone can develop a gambling addiction, certain factors raise the risk. These include high impulsivity, early exposure to gambling, family history, and gender. Men are more prone to gambling problems than women.5 

Stressful life events and loneliness trigger problem gambling.6 Someone may even lose their entire financial portfolio overnight. This heightens the risk of suicidality: 17-24% of pathological gamblers attempt suicide7 after a significant loss.

Recognizing gambling problems is the first step toward recovery.

Assessing the Severity of Gambling Addiction

Free, clinically recognized self-assessment tools can help you gauge your gambling behavior: 

Stages of Gambling Addiction

Psychologists recognize 4 stages of gambling addiction:8

  1. Winning: You play occasionally. A big win is often the hook for compulsive gambling. 
  2. Losing: Behavioral changes emerge, including secretive behavior, lying, and borrowing. You may notice mood shifts like irritability and anxiety
  3. Desperation: This phase is marked by guilt, isolation, mounting debt, and panic. Legal issues, like fraud or forgery, might be present. 
  4. Hopelessness: Substance abuse, withdrawal symptoms, and depression are common. There’s a high potential for suicidal ideation following large losses.

While self-assessments offer valuable insight, professionals can provide an accurate diagnosis. There are counselors and psychologists with experience treating people in your exact situation. 



Creating a Personalized Quitting Plan

Stigma is still a major barrier to addiction treatment—many people who want to quit opt to self-manage their gambling.9 

Most gambling quitting plans include a mix of behavioral management strategies and interventions like workbooks and toolkits. Using these alongside professional counseling (and with the guidance of your therapist) is ideal.

  • Alternative activity scheduling: Replace gambling with non-gambling hobbies. Studies show that this reduces problem gambling for some women. 
  • Self-exclusion: Ban yourself from gambling venues or sites for a fixed time period. This is most effective when combined with counseling. 
  • Money and time limiting: Set a spending limit, like carrying a certain amount of cash with you, and stop when you reach it. 
  • Workbooks: Many workbooks outline 12-week plans with themes centered on motivation to change, self-awareness, and stress management. 
  • Self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Readings and exercises help you recognize triggers, manage debt, set goals, prevent relapse, and more. 
  • Toolkits and booklets: Similar to workbooks, these provide information, coping strategies, skill-building exercises, and relapse prevention plans.

Building Your Quitting Plan

These steps can help you put together a successful plan to quit gambling:

  1. Pinpoint triggers. Identify situations, emotions, or events that trigger your urge to gamble.
  2. Set achievable goals. Aim for clear and attainable milestones. For example, you might try alternative activity scheduling for 2 months. 
  3. Avoid high-risk situations. Minimize your exposure to casinos, gambling websites, or gambling friends. 
  4. Try healthy coping strategies. Replace gambling with healthy coping strategies, like relaxation techniques,10 outdoor hobbies, and group exercise. 
  5. Track your progress. Use a journal to document your journey, and take note of how far you’ve come! 
  6. Celebrate the wins. Gambling addiction specialists recommend rewarding yourself for non-gambling days11 to reinforce positive behavior and boost your motivation. 
  7. Optimize your progress with professional support: Consider working with a qualified addictions specialist. Counselors and therapists create a safe space for self-expression, provide expert guidance to help you develop your coping skills, and hold you accountable for staying on track.

Building a Support System

A strong support network promotes gambling addiction recovery.12 This can include trusted friends and family, support groups, and treatment professionals. 

12-Step groups, like Gamblers Anonymous, are most commonly used for gambling addiction compared to other treatment options. These 60- to 90-minute meetings are held once a week, in person and online. 

Tips for Effective Communication

Opening up about gambling issues can feel intimidating. Try these approaches to promote understanding: 

  • Be honest. Express your commitment to change and the importance of support from loved ones. 
  • Educate. Explain problem gambling and the challenges you face to encourage active participation in your recovery.
  • Address misunderstandings. Not everyone understands the complexities of gambling addiction. Be patient in explaining your struggles. Most people want to help. 
  • Set boundaries. Some people enable behaviors that you want to change. If a relationship feels unhealthy, you can walk away. 

Coping Strategies and Alternatives

Similar to drugs and alcohol, gambling is often used as a coping mechanism.13 While it may not be realistic to completely avoid gambling triggers, developing healthy coping tools can help you change unwanted patterns: 

  • Problem-solving skills empower you to take action to identify and address triggers. 
  • Emotional regulation helps manage impulsive urges to gamble and strengthens your self-image. 
  • Interrupting negative thoughts and replacing them with positive alternatives helps you realize you’re capable of change. 
  • A change of scenery can reinforce non-gambling behavior. New environments can inspire us to make positive change.
  • Time management skills help you fill your schedule with meaningful activities, reducing your opportunities for impulsive gambling.

Finding Healthy Hobbies

Many people find trying new hobbies—or rediscovering old ones—to be an important part of their recovery journey. Because addiction takes up so much of our time, it’s important to replace it with activities that fulfill you. The options are limitless:

  • Mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation 
  • Physical activities like cycling, swimming, dance, or kickboxing 
  • Outdoor adventures like surfing, hiking, or rock climbing 
  • Creative pursuits like writing, painting, or playing music 
  • Gardening
  • Learning a new language or skill 

These activities are therapeutic in and of themselves—and you might even discover a new passion in the process.

Financial Recovery and Responsibility

Compulsive gambling strains finances. On average, people struggling with gambling addiction face $42,750 in debt.14 Bankruptcy affects 22.8% of pathological gamblers.

The good news is that financial responsibility empowers your recovery. Here are some steps you can take to regain control of your finances: 

  1. Understand your financial picture. This may be hard to do, but it’s a critical first step. Take a detailed look at your whole financial picture, including any losses or debt accrued from gambling.  
  2. Create a monthly budget (and stick to it). Crunching the numbers helps you gain perspective on what’s coming in, and going out, each month. A free budgeting tool can make the process even easier. 
  3. Manage debt. Research your repayment options. A debt consolidation loan can lower your interest rate and allow you to make fixed monthly payments over a set loan term.
  4. Build a safety net. Start an emergency fund for unexpected expenses. 
  5. Make it a habit. Commit to financial responsibility for long-term, sustainable recovery. 
  6. Seek professional financial guidance. Organizations like the National Council on Problem Gambling offer confidential support and referrals to local resources, including debt and financial counseling services. 

Rebuilding your finances takes time and effort, but it pays off: stable finances pave the way for a more sustainable, happier future.

Dealing With Relapses

90% of problem gamblers experience relapse,15 which is why relapse prevention planning is a crucial part of any healing journey. Relapse usually starts with early warning signs: 

  • Turning to other unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substances
  • Ignoring your emotions 
  • Increased stress 
  • Finding yourself in situations or around people that are triggering 
  • Complacency around recovery 

Progress is a process, and relapse is a part of the recovery process for many. Rather than viewing it as a personal shortcoming, look at it as a learning opportunity. Maybe you experienced a strong trigger or need to adjust your coping strategies. Lean into your support network, talk to your therapist, and reassess your quitting plan. If you keep taking steps toward your goals, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be. 
Gambling addiction can have serious consequences for your finances, family, and mental well-being. If you’re concerned about your gambling and want intensive help to stop, search our list of gambling addiction treatment centers to learn more about treatment options.


Frequently Asked Questions About How to Quit Gambling

How do I know if I have a gambling problem?

Problem gambling involves an uncontrollable impulse to gamble despite its negative consequences. Frequent anxiety, sleep disturbances, and financial debt due to gambling are common warning signs. Self-assessment tools like the G-SAS and NORC Screen can offer insights into the severity of your gambling behaviors.

What can I do to quit gambling?

Create a personalized quitting plan with strategies like alternative activity scheduling, self-exclusion, and coping skills training. Workbooks, toolkits, and online resources can help. Consider professional support, like individual therapy.

What can I do about my gambling debt?

Create a realistic budget, prioritize essential expenses, and explore debt management options. Consider seeking professional financial guidance from nonprofit gambling addiction organizations. Rebuilding finances takes time and effort, but it’s achievable.


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