Questions and answers about compulsive gambling
What is compulsive gambling?
There are many and varying interpretations of compulsive gambling. The explanation that seems most acceptable to GA members is that compulsive gambling is an illness, progressive in its nature, which can never be cured, but can be arrested.
Before coming to GA, many compulsive gamblers thought of themselves as morally weak or just no good. The GA concept is that the compulsive gambler is a very sick person who can recover by following a very simple programme, to the best of his or her own ability, that has proved successful for hundreds of other men and women with a similar problem.
What is the first thing a compulsive gambler ought to do in order to stop gambling?
To accept the fact that compulsive gambling is a progressive illness and to have the desire to get well. Our experience has shown that the GA programme will always work for anyone who wants to stop gambling. It will seldom work for the man or woman who cannot, or will not, squarely face the facts about this illness.
Only you can make that decision. Most people turn to GA when they become willing to admit that gambling has them licked. Also, in GA a compulsive gambler is described as a person whose gambling has caused growing and continuing problems in many departments of life.
Many GA members went through terrifying experiences before they were ready to accept help. Others were faced with a slow, subtle deterioration which finally brought them to the point of admitting defeat.
Can a compulsive gambler ever gamble normally again?
No. The first small bet to a problem gambler is like the first small drink to an alcoholic. Sooner or later comes the fall back into the old destructive pattern.
Once a person has crossed the invisible line into irresponsible gambling, then it seems to be impossible to regain control. After abstaining a few months, some of our members have tried some small bet experiments, always with disastrous results. The old obsession inevitably returned.
Our GA experience seems to point to these alternatives: to gamble, risking progressive deterioration, or not to gamble, and develop a spiritual way of life.
Does this mean I can't even do the lottery or play a game for table stakes?
It means exactly that. A stand has to be made somewhere and GA members have found the first bet is the one to avoid, even though it may be as little as tossing for a cup of coffee.
Why can't a compulsive gambler simply use their willpower to stop gambling?
We believe that most people, if they are honest, will recognise their lack of power to solve certain problems. When it comes to gambling, we have known many problem gamblers who could abstain for long periods, but caught off guard - and in the right circumstances - they started gambling without thought of the consequences. The defences they relied upon through willpower alone gave way before some trivial reason for placing a bet.
We have found that willpower and self-knowledge will not help in those mental blank spots, but adherence to spiritual principles seems to solve our problems. Most of us feel that a belief in a Power greater than ourselves is necessary in order for us to sustain a desire to refrain from gambling.
Do GA members go into gambling places to help former members who are still gambling?
Often, families and friends of these people have asked us to intercede, but we have never been able to be of any real help. Actually, sometimese we felt we held back a member's eventual recovery by giving this unsolicited attention. It all goes back to the basic principle that a gambler ought to want help before being approached by us.
I only go on gambling binges periodically. Do I need GA?
Only you can determine whether or not, or how much, you need GA. However, most periodic gamblers who have joined GA tell us that, though their gambling binges were periodic, the intervals between were not periods of constructive thinking. Symptomatic of these periods were nervousness, irritability, frustration, indecision and a continued breakdown in personal relationships. These same people have often found the GA programme a guide to spiritual progress towards the elimination of character defects.
If I join GA, won't everyone know I am a compulsive gambler?
Most people made quite a name for themselves as full-fledged gamblers by the time they turned to GA. Their gambling was not usually a well-kept secret. It would, then, be unusual if the good news of their abstinence from gambling did not cause comment.
However, no disclosure of any affiliation with GA can rightfully be made by anyone but the member personally. Even then, it should be done in a way that will not harm the GA fellowship.
If I stop gambling, won't it make it difficult for me to keep some desirable business and social contacts?
We think not. Most of the world's work of any consequence is done without the benefit of monetary wagering. Many of our leaders in business, industry and professional life have attained great success without knowing one card from another or which way the horses run round the course.
In the area of social relationships, the newcomer will soon find a keen appreciation of the many pleasant and stimulating activities available - far removed from anything that is remotely associated with gambling.
How does a person stop gambling through the GA programme?
This is done by bringing about a progressive personality change from within. This can be accomplished by having faith in and trying to understand the basic concepts of the GA recovery programme.
There are no short cuts to gaining this faith and understanding. To recover from one of the most baffling, insidious, compulsive addictions will require diligent effort. Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the key words in our recovery.
Can a person recover by himself/herself by reading literature or medical books on the problem of compulsive gambling?
Sometimes, but not usually. The GA programme works best for the individual when it is recognised and accepted as a programme involving other people. Working with other compulsive gamblers in a GA group, the individual seems to find the necessary understanding and support. There is an ability to talk of past experiences and present problems in a comfortable area. Instead of feeling alone and misunderstood, there is a feeling of being needed and accepted.
Does GA look upon compulsive gambling as a moral vice?
Is knowing why we gambled important?
Not as a rule. Of the many GA members who have had extended psychiatric treatment, none have found a knowledge of why they gambled to be of value insofar as stopping gambling.
What, however, are some of the factors that might cause a person to become a compulsive gambler?
GA members, in considering this perplexing question, feel these are some of the possible reasons:
1. Inability and unwillingness to accept reality. Hence, the escape into the dream world of gambling.
2. Emotional insecurity. Here a compulsive gambler finds emotional comfort only when 'in action'. It is not uncommon to hear a GA member say, 'The only place I really felt like I belonged was when I was in a gambling environment. There I felt secure and comfortable. No great demands were made upon me. I knew I was destroying myself, yet at the same time, I had a certain sense of security.'
3. Immaturity. A desire to have all the good things in life without any great effort seems the common character pattern of the problem gambler. Many GA members accept the fact that they were unwilling to grow up. Subconsciously they felt they could avoid mature responsibility through wagering on the spin of a wheel or the turn of a card, and so the struggle to escape responsibility finally became a subconscious obsession.
Also, a compulsive gambler seems to have a strong inner urge to be a 'big shot' and needs to have a feeling of being all-powerful. There is a willingness to do anything (often of an anti-social nature) to maintain a personal image for others to see.
Then, too, there is the theory that compulsive gamblers subconsciously want to lose to punish themselves. There is evidence among GA members to support this theory.
What is the dream world of the compulsive gambler?
This is a rather common characteristic of us compulsive gamblers when still gambling. We spend a lot of time creating images of the great and wonderful things we are going to do when we make the big win. We often see ourselves as charming and charitable fellows. We may dream of providing our family and friends with new cars, expensive holidays and other luxuries. We picture ourselves leading pleasant and gracious lives made possible by the huge sums of money we will accrue from our 'system'. Servants, penthouses, charming friends, nice clothes, yachts and world tours are a few of the wonderful things that are just around the corner when we finally make a big killing.
Pathetically, however, there never seems to be a big enough win to make even the smallest dream come true. When we succeed, we gamble to dream still greater dreams. When we fail, we gamble in reckless desperation and the depths of our misery are fathomless as our dream world comes crashing down. Sadly, we struggle back, dream more dreams and, of course, suffer more misery. No one can convince us that our great schemes will not some day come true. We believe they will for, without this dream world, life for us would not be tolerable.
Isn't compulsive gambling basically a financial problem?
No, compulsive gambling seems to be an emotional problem. When in the grip of this illness, we create mountains of apparently insoluble problems. Of course, there are financial problems but we also have to face family problems, employment problems, or problems involving ourselves with the law. We lose our friends and relatives have us on their personal blacklist.
Of the many serious problems we create, the financial problems seem the easiest to solve. Upon entering GA and stopping gambling, we find income often increases and, as there is no longer the financial drain caused by gambling, there is soon relief from the financial pressures.
The most difficult task to be faced is that of bringing about a personality change from within ourselves. Most of us in GA look upon this as our greatest challenge and believe this to be a lifetime job.
Are there more compulsive gamblers in certain occupations than in others?
Among GA members, there seems to be a predominance of those who work on their own or have little personal supervision. Obviously this allows more freedom to gamble. The occupations of the other members, including those at school or at home, are extremely varied. It seems safe to say that compulsive gambling has nothing to do with the occupation or age of the individual. It apparently arises from an inner imbalance, not external factors.