Everybody is different which is why there can never be a ‘magic wand’ or medication to heal mental and emotional distress. Not all the support services we have listed ‘work’ for everybody. Even though addiction is partly defined by a loss of the ability to make rational decisions, some degree of control always remains, often hidden in the turmoil of powerful feelings. We believe that if you are trying to overcome an addiction, some degree of being responsible for that journey is very important and possible for everybody.
Understanding the nature of addiction will help you see it as an illness like any other rather than a shameful moral weakness. This site demonstrates beyond doubt that many are affected. You are certainly not alone. In fact, one estimate has it that one in ten adults in the UK are addicted to something. Going to a group such as Gamblers Anonymous, if it does nothing else for you and you leave, will bring home to you how your story – which may have been largely shrouded in secrecy – is very similar (but never identical) to that of others.
So, knowledge and sharing stories are both powerful. Breaking down a strong resistance to admit your problems to somebody is itself a wonderful self-help strategy. Not everybody is lucky enough to have understanding family, friends or employers. It’s very hard for a wife who has seen the family ruined and home repossession looming to understand, forgive and support – but many are lucky enough to be blessed with such support.
There is a spectrum to overcoming addiction. For some, at one end, it is relatively easy. At the other end, the road to recovery is immensely difficult, needing to deal not only with the addiction but co-occurring mental health issues and possibly other addictions, lack of friendship or family support, and a range of multiple and complex difficulties. At the ‘easy’ end of the spectrum, it should be noted that a generally agreed figure is that one third of people with an addiction recover with no help at all. It ay be that those towards this end of the spectrum will benefit from self-help strategies the most, especially if they have good support from family, friends and employers. Relatively few people are at the other end, and they need most support, and the good news is that they will have a good chance of overcoming their addiction. Most people are between the extremes on the spectrum.
It isn’t quite that simple though. There are thousands of tragic cases of people who have completed suicide because of gambling, and on the surface they had loving families, friends and goood jobs. Feeling totally, utterly isolated, feeling the deepest imaginable shame, such people could so easily have been helped were they aware of what was available. This is why we need urgently to advertise support services, identify addiction as a serious illness which is not the fault of victims, raise awareness and understanding, and work hard to remove stigma. We can’t just focus on people already in difficulty. It is essential that everybody understands the nature of addiction because sadly they or someone close to them will run into it one day.
Some Gambling Self-Help Resources
Here are some tips, advice and workbooks whch you may find useful. It’s probably the case that taking time with just one of them is worthwhile. This is not only because of what you’ll learn – such as how to cope with cravings and urges – but also because you can tell yourself you are taking part in your recovery (rather than hoping something or someone external will give you the ‘answer’ and make it all go away.
GamCare have a guide and workbook which you can download and print, or ask somebody to do so. These come with a range of self-guided resources.
Here’s a self-help guide from Australia. gamblers-help-self-help-guide
From America, here’s a resource, Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling We’re not fans of the term ‘problem gambling’ – or, indeed, addiction but they are uniquitous (a fancy word for everywhere) and in common usage. Just remember, you are not a problem, nor is an ‘addict’ anything like the negative stereotypes. You are a worthwhile person with an illness. The site that this resource comes from is HealthGuide and on it you’ll find good stuff about mental health generally.
Less well known than Gamblers Anonymous, SMART Recovery is based upon psychological methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Like GA, they hold group meetings and you can find details of them here in the UK at their website. The international site has a packed toolbox for you to work through at your own pace. Take a look!
Here’s a piece that cuts to the bone, and apart from the advice it gives, it probably expresses feelings you are very familiar with. Written by a Gordon Moody Trustee (Gordon Moody being a leading and oldest support service), it begins:
For most gamblers the harsh truth is that they really did let people down, took others for fools, tried to get money out of them and throughout you may also have lied constantly. The part of this that you know is true, and they don’t, is that from the bottom of your heart, hurting them was never your intention. Lying to them, strange as it sounds, was not something you set out to do. Even those times when you may have stolen money, you actually believed on some level that it would work out favourably. That the winnings would going to be used to settle it all back. Make it all OK again. Or that you were going to get yourself together after the next bet and get real with everyone around you so that there would be no more secrets. At least that honesty would count for something. But instead you kept the secret for far too long, and now you have found that whatever you say to them, it no longer counts.
They just don’t believe in you anymore no matter what you say or do
Here is the biggest problem that we now have. This stuff has already happened and no matter how much you beat yourself up, torment yourself day and night about it, or spend your days talking to yourself using words like ‘useless’ and ‘worthless’ to describe you, the past will not come undone.
Dealing with such intense feelings, indeed dealing with feelings at all, is one of the problems that come with addiction. Many theories of addiction believe that behavioural or substance compulsions represent an attempt, a ‘self-medication’, to escape overwhelming neggative feelings. For this reason, bear in mind that treatment for underlying conditions of mental and emotiona distress may be necessary. Recognise too that although each of us is unique the experience of feeling overcome with feelings as if there is no way out is very common.
In any case, the best therapy or treatment is not enough for many. The issues that emerge from gambling harm such as debt need attention and it’s important to work on these issues. It is a relief to break down the actions needed and to obtain support from relevant services. Dealing with debt, for instance, is so much easier after contacting one of the several expert support finacial and debt services.
The two videos shown to the left and below refer to some famous views on addiction. The argument in both is that addictions occur when an individual is deprived of good social health, quality relationships with other people.
The Hari TED talk has been watched by more than three million people. Hari, a journalist, did extensive global research for his two boks, Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections.
‘Addicts’ tend to isolate themselves. They are ‘there’ and outwardly functioning but inwardly they are ‘not there’. Could an important part of recovery be integration into community? Perhaps that’s how groups like Gamblers Anonymous help some people. More generally, if we had opportunities to rejoin social life at our own pace, this would help us.
Two famous studies in this video also make the point that what’s involved in our becoming addicted to things crucially involves our connections with other people, with the community at large. Not the whole story but maybe an important part of it.
Certainly, support services could include locations where people can mix and enjoy a range of activities – sports, drama, art, gardening and so on. Where such facilities do exist, many members go on to become peer supporters.
It should be noted that highly popular as these ideas are, there is criticism of the studies involved such as here in a well-balanced article which really does go to show how complex addiction is and why theories about it differ so much.
Dealing with Stigma
Mental health conditions generally carry stigma, the projection onto an individual of negative values such as ‘weak’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘abnormal’. The degree of stigma varies and it’s important to note that stigmatisation is often unconscious and not unkindly meant, and that by no means everybody stigmatises people with a mental health disorder. That said, it is unfortunately pervasive and adds a further burden to somebody’s suffering.
Stigma, visible in common social attitudes, is internalised by sufferers who may feel shame and all the other negative labels of stigma. This can stop people coming forward for support.
Addiction, the extreme end on a spectrum of problems associated with harmful experiences relating to substances and behaviours, is particularly strongly stigmatised. It is possible that addiction is ‘institutionally stigmatised’, that is embedded in the policies and practices and customary attitudes of staff in health and social care services. This results in a lack of resources and attention, a failure to provide support with the same values and importance as general health delivery, and an inadequate delivery of services. Of course, this is partly offset by much excellent work of staff, organisations and anti-stigma initiatives.
How can we cope with being stigmatised? Remember, stigma is not only relevant to health. Large swathes of population are stigmatised by gender, race, social status for example – and in such areas too we witness resistance, challenge and progress. Such progress does not eliminate stigma overnight and as to be ongoing. In the case of an individual, there are no once-and-for-all quick fixes to eliminate the pains of being stigmatised. But there are ways to considerably lessen it.
1. Stigma largely arises through lack of knowledge and an unconsidered adoption of prevailing stereotypes. Anti-stigma projects work on the basis that increasing knowledge and awareness is powerful in combating stigma. Hopefully this website gives some such awareness and insight into gambling harms as connected with a clear health issue. Millions suffer silently from the effects of a substance or behavioural problem, often ashamed and interpreting their suffering as their own fault, the product of weakness or immorality. The first step to handle stigma is to realise you have a common mental health disorder which needs and fully deserves empathic, sympathetic, non-judgmental and skilled support and treatment. You, like millions of others have a problem, the solution to which requires medical and other (such as debt) support.
2. Your family and people close to you may themselves feel stigmatised by association. Worse, in response to problems that have arisen, they themselves may stigmatise you as bad, weak, selfish, and so on. Where possible, and sadly it won’t be, talk to them, provide them however you can with information about gambling harms. Tell them you fully understand their pains and the ways in which they may feel stigmatised, ashamed.
3. Stigma can make you feel very isolated and reluctant to share your understanding or confusion about your suffering. It’s a tremendous relief to open up to somebody close if available. If not, and you feel that you’re capable, join in meetings at Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery. With no commitment necessary at this stage to such groups, the non-judgmental sharing will help you recognise aspects of your own story, show you that you are not unique in your pain. If group attendance seems too much for you, there are plenty of telephone services. Having someone listen respectfully is of huge benefit.
4. You have a problem. You are not a problem. Well, it’s likely you’ll have several problems (being stigmatised being one of them). Perhaps with someone’s help, break down the problems and start working on them. Taking action no matter how little at first will boost confidence and commitment. You, your identity, your whole being are vastly larger than any illnesses or misfortunes that befall.
5. Try to step back and not take stigma personally. See it as a social problem, not a problem of your making.
6. Knowledge about your condition, a pervasive mental health condition that affects millions, will help remove identifying with it as a character fault. The more you learn, the more you will come to see and believe that what’s happened was largely ‘not your fault’.
7. Use such knowledge when talking to people close to you. Try to be patient with their initial ignorance.
8. Tell your story when you are ready. There are countless examples of people telling their stories about gambling. In the media, on social networks, on youtube and podcasts, talks, and focused organisations such as the Scottish Recovery Network, See Me, the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the Scottish Health and Social Care Alliance. We’ve detailed on this site some of the many organisations set up by people harmed in different ways by gambling, and they share stories.
9. Many people in recovery report that getting involved in campaigning, awareness raising and anti-stigma work has been a potent aid to their progress. Having suffered with shame and feelings of worthlessness, they have overcome these by gaining knowledge, joining conversations with others who have been through it, setting up networks and campaigns or joining those of others. Just as we see campaigns to raise the status of mental health to that of physical health, or campaigns to demand fair attention the needs of particular illnesses, or to seek alleviation of poverty and inequality, so we need to bring awareness and information about gambling and to challenge sigma. Getting involved can start with very small steps such as a letter to your MP. Hopefully this website will suggest many ways of getting involved. When you get to a place where you know for sure that you have an illness and not a fault, the energy from working to goal and helping others can be a significant factor in recovery.
Overcoming addiction involves what support you need and the steps you take yourself. Rather than using will power, which as been shown to be ineffective and counter-productive, begin to slowly dispel darkness by admitting more light. Time you spent gambling and dealing with the problems it caused needs to be filled with new habits, things that are enjoyable and worthwhile. Hill walking and hiking in a group, or any form of exercise; volunteering; learning to play a musical instrument; reading and writing; so much awaits.
Helping others, giving support to people suffering, getting involved in campaigns, starting your own campaign: all such things are worthwhile and a big help in your recovery – or, as Martin says in his interview, discovery of a new life that’s possible.
We’re beginning to dig deep now. Knowledge is good but can just add to confusion. Leave it here if you’ve had enough. There is already plenty to do and think about. Try to plan your own path based on the resources we’ve offered. Remember, the best way to eat an elephant is to cut it into pieces beforehand!
Talking of elephants, there is an old story about some blind people describing an elephant. In ancient Indian texts the story is told:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
The men soon came to blows arguing about what the creature was. You witness similar aruments over any mental health condition including addiction. So if one of the things you are going through is total confusion and suffering about how you keep doing things you desperately don’t want to do, maybe relax a lttle and know that not even ‘experts’ can come up with any neat answers. And at another level, though ‘experts’ are very clever and ‘know’ a lot, they are in a different universe to the Experts by Experience who know with every atom of their being.
So try to keep things simple. Share your troubles with somebody. Seek support. Make connections. Share with those who are going through or have been through similar experiences. Try self-help advice. Gain knowledge about your addiction but only as much as you are comfortable with, and never let your knowledge and research interfere with the essential task of getting well.
Addiction has biological, chemical, neurological, psychological, medical, emotional, social, political, economic, and spiritual underpinnings.
To get anywhere near a complete picture we must keep shaking the kaleidoscope to see what other patterns emerge.
Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (2010)