Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step recovery program and support group in which men and women share their experiences, struggles, wisdom, and support about problem gambling.1 There are no dues or paperwork to join Gamblers Anonymous; the only requirement is that you want to end your gambling problem.1 Though Gamblers Anonymous is not associated with any religious group or political affiliation, some people find the 12-step principle of surrendering your problems to a higher power to have distinctly religious overtones. However, Gamblers Anonymous is welcoming of people of all ages, religions, and racial backgrounds—you just need to want to end your gambling addiction.
Despite the serious individual and societal costs of problem gambling, few countries currently monitor statistics on gambling addiction. Neither the World Health Organization nor the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction can give prevalence rates for gambling addiction.2 However, in Canada, the Alberta Gambling Research Institute reports that gambling addiction affects approximately 2% of the population; in the United States, about 1% of the population suffers from a gambling addiction.2,3
What to Expect at a Gamblers Anonymous Meeting
Gamblers Anonymous is a community of people who want the same goal: freedom from gambling addiction. Many Gamblers Anonymous members may also be struggling with other mental health or behavioral addictions. As a group, Gamblers Anonymous members share their wisdom, experiences, ideas for maintaining recovery, and healthy habits so that others may benefit. Members offer each other support, understanding, compassion, and solace when times are tough. Often, Gamblers Anonymous members will serve as sponsors to newer members who need more intensive support or a person to call when urges hit.
Do You Have A Gambling Addiction?Gambling becomes an addiction when it is something you or a loved one cannot control and when it begins to affect a person’s financial, familial, social, recreational, educational, or occupational functioning. Read More
When you attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, you will meet with other people struggling with the same problem gambling behaviors. The session begins with a short prayer that lets members thank their higher power for help in overcoming their addictions. The principles of Gamblers Anonymous are based on the idea that recovery involves hearing stories and learning from the wisdom of others. During the meeting, members have the chance to share their experiences, worries, fears, and successes. Members can also discuss any temptations they may have recently had. You might also find the person you would like to have as a sponsor.
Gamblers Anonymous members follow the 12 steps—members must fully complete one step before moving to the next one. These steps include:1
- Admitting that you have no control over your gambling.
- Asking a higher power for help overcoming the addiction.
- Making a deliberate decision to turn your life over to your higher power.
- Making an inventory of your moral and financial assets.
- Admitting to yourself and a confidant what you have done wrong.
- Being ready to change your character flaws.
- Asking your higher power for help changing these character flaws.
- Making a list of the people you have harmed because of your gambling addiction.
- Making amends for mistakes you made in the past.
- Continuing to take stock of what you did wrong in the past and where you can improve.
- Seeking wisdom from your higher power and the strength to follow that wisdom.
- Reaching out to other gambling addicts to promote the message of your higher power.
Gamblers Anonymous meetings often last 60 to 90 minutes and meet once or multiple times per week. People suffering from gambling addiction can attend the same meeting regularly or can attend any meeting near them whenever the urge to gamble hits.
What Is Gambling Addiction?
Gambling addiction is a serious behavioral health condition that is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Currently, gambling addiction is the only behavioral addiction listed in the DSM-5, though other behavioral addictions do exist and are being researched alongside gambling addiction.
According to the DSM-5, to receive a gambling addiction diagnosis, you must display the following behaviors:4
- Feeling the need to gamble with greater amounts of money in order to feel the same high, rush, or satisfaction
- Feeling irritable or restless when unable to gamble or when trying to resist gambling
- Making several unsuccessful attempts to stop or cut back on gambling
- Excessive thinking or talking about gambling or ways to get money for gambling
- Using gambling as a way to relieve stress
- Returning to gambling even after losing significant amounts of money
- Attempting to recuperate losses by gambling more
- Lying to hide one’s extent of involvement or trouble with gambling
- Jeopardizing relationships, school, or work to gamble
- Turning to friends and family members in order to get funds for gambling or to get out of financial difficulties caused by gambling
At least four of these criteria must be present within a 12-month period for a person to be considered to have a gambling addiction.
One of the most well-studied risk factors for gambling addiction is alcohol consumption.Research has identified the riskiest types of gambling that most often lead to addiction. The riskiest type is casino gambling, followed by purchasing lottery tickets, using scratch cards, and playing bingo.5 Research has also shown that the more you engage in a variety of different types of gambling, the more likely that you are to develop a gambling addiction.5 Further, if you abuse alcohol and gamble, you are extremely likely to develop a gambling addiction.5 Members of minority groups and low socioeconomic brackets are statistically more likely to engage in pathological gambling than other demographic groups.5
One of the most well-studied risk factors for gambling addiction is alcohol consumption. Both gambling and alcohol abuse are serious behavioral health conditions that require specialized treatment. However, research indicates that alcohol consumption is only a risk factor for gambling addiction if alcohol is consumed while gambling.6 Study results show that individuals who gambled while sober and drank while not gambling had few to no symptoms of gambling addiction.6
Studies have also shown that compulsive gambling is associated with an increased risk for other addictive behaviors. For example, around 36% of illicit substance abusers also suffer from gambling addiction, though some studies have determined the rate to be as high as 59%.7 Gambling addiction may also be linked to eating disorders, such as compulsive eating; approximately 6% of problematic gamblers simultaneously struggle with some form of eating disorder.7 Further, 12% to 14% of people who are addicted to gambling may also suffer from sex addiction, and 24% may suffer from shopping addiction.7
The Role of 12-Step Groups in Recovery
If you believe you or someone you care about may be suffering from gambling addiction, joining a 12-step program like Gamblers Anonymous may be a good way to begin gaining control over this behavioral health problem. When dealing with any sort of behavioral or mental health problem, it is helpful to have the support of people who are going through a similar experience. This is what Gamblers Anonymous provides.
Some people decide to use Gamblers Anonymous as their primary form of treatment from gambling addiction, while others prefer to go to a gambling addiction or dual diagnosis treatment facility. Whichever treatment modality you choose, Gamblers Anonymous can help you maintain your recovery program long-term.
Gambling addiction is a difficult problem to overcome, but it is possible. With the help of a support group like Gamblers Anonymous, many people are able to abstain from gambling and get their lives back on track. If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, consider attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting near you. There is no commitment to join, so you can see if Gamblers Anonymous is a right fit for you.
- Gamblers Anonymous. (2016). About Us.
- Gowing, L. R., Ali, R. L., Allsop, S., Marsden, J., Turf, E. E., West, R. & Witton, J. (2015). Global Statistics on Addictive Behaviors: 2014 Status Report.
- Potenza, M. N., Fiellin, D. A., Heninger, G. R., Rounsaville, B. J. & Mazure, C. M. (2002). Gambling: An Addictive Behavior with Health and Primary Care Implications. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 17(9), 721–732.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
- Welte, J. W., Barnes, G. M., Wieczorek, W. F., Tidwell, M. C. O., & Parker, J. C. (2004). Risk Factors for Pathological Gambling. Addictive Behaviors, 29, 323–335.
- Welte, J. W., Barnes, G. M., Wievzorek, W., F. & Tidwell, M. C. O. (2004). Simultaneous drinking and gambling: A Risk Factor for Pathological Gambling. Substance Use & Misuse, 39(9), 1405–1422.
- Sussman, S., Lisha, N., & Griffiths, M. (2011). Prevalence of the Addictions: A Problem of the Majority or the Minority? Evaluation & The Health Professions, 34(1), 3–56.