How I recovered from my stubborn addiction to gambling

How this woman with a 'normal' life became a gambling addict and her journey to total recovery

Woman throwing playing cards / gambling

I have always been a responsible person. I have a successful career, a great life and a happy marriage. Yet, I got addicted. People who know me were shocked to discover. Frankly, I was shocked too at who I had become. I felt stupid and ashamed, yet I could not stop.

My foray into gambling

Gambling started out as a fun social activity for me. Then I started going alone. Eventually my whole world revolved around it. I was either gambling, attempting to clean up the financial crisis that I had created, or planning ways to get back out there. I thought of little else.

I vaguely recall one Christmas morning when my two precious boys were opening their Christmas gifts. Instead of sharing in their excitement, I was watching the clock, wondering when it would be reasonable to mention going to the casino. It had become a tradition, on any holiday, for a group of us to go to the casino leaving the children with a family member who would stay behind. I’m certain that I promoted, if not started that tradition.

In time, I had spent all of our savings and we were in quite a bit of debt due to my gambling. My husband had no idea because I handled the finances for our family, and he trusted me completely.

Gambling started out as a fun social activity for me. Then I started going alone. Eventually my whole world revolved around it

An amalgamation of emotions

I lived in constant fear that he might open a bank or credit card statement and discover what I’d done. I began to realise that I would not be able to fix it and that I would not be able to hide it forever.

I could not imagine what life would be like if he found out what I’d done. Surely he would leave me and take custody of my children. Even knowing this, I could not stop. I didn’t really want to stop gambling. I just wanted all of the problems associated with it to go away.

As much as I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without my family, I also could not fathom a life without gambling. I needed to be doing it almost constantly.

I was at a crossroads of desires. I wanted my family and I wanted to stop gambling and I wanted to die... but I also wanted to live and to keep gambling. I felt like I needed help and wished there was a place to rehab from gambling.

I wasn’t ingesting anything, but I could feel withdrawal symptoms if I didn’t gamble. Behaviours are known to affect brain chemistry. I now know that there is mounting evidence that gambling is very similar to drug addiction but even without scientific evidence, there would be no doubt in my mind that I was ‘addicted’. I have memories that, if they’d been recorded on video, an observer would be certain that I was ‘on something’.

I didn’t really want to stop gambling. I just wanted all of the problems associated with it to go away

In time my husband discovered our financial situation and what I’d done. I was so ashamed and remorseful. He was hurt, angry and confused but… he wanted to work things out.

The hard road back home

I started working with a therapist, took medication for depression and began attending meetings at Gamblers Anonymous. It was difficult. My husband travelled a lot for business and I had a household to run while he was away. I surrendered all access to money or credit cards, but we decided that when he would travel he would give me cash to purchase groceries or other things we’d need while he was away.

The first time this happened, I had gambled every dollar before his plane landed at his destination. I borrowed money from a friend so that he’d never know but I told him, when he returned, that we had to find a different way.

It turned out that I was ‘safer’ if I had a debit card. He was able to see every transaction that I made online. If it was necessary for me to have cash for some reason, I always provided a receipt. I only carried a small amount of cash. At first that seemed safe because my gambling had reached the point where it was ridiculous to drive to the casino with less than a few hundred dollars. It wasn’t safe.

I now know that there is mounting evidence that gambling is very similar to drug addiction

Anytime I ‘slipped’, I’d make a new rule, in an attempt to block myself from gambling the next time. When my whole world revolved around gambling, I could not put rules into place for myself. I didn’t want to stop. But as I gambled less, I was more able to do things that would help me stop.

I found online support groups and in the end, that is what helped me the most.

I realised that I wasn’t bad or stupid. This started out very innocently. There was a very strong physical phenomenon happening to me. So it wasn’t my fault. But if I wanted to live my life [I wasn’t ‘living’ when I was caught up in the gambling cycle]... I was going to have to change it. I needed help, and ultimately I was the one who had to do it. So I did. I learned a lot from others who had successfully stopped.

I let go of the shame and decided that if I focus on just doing the next right thing, right now… I couldn’t gamble. For months I called my sister-in-law every evening... just a five-second call to say “Day 2” or “Day 24”. If I act responsibly with my money, I cannot gamble. If I do not lie, I cannot gamble. If I am being vigilant with my time, I cannot gamble. Gambling is never the next right thing.

I hesitate to say that there were periods of time that it was just impossible for me to stop. I hesitate because those are the kinds of things that I used as justification to continue gambling. Gamblers Anonymous told me that I had an illness. I construed that to mean “I can’t help it”... so I continued on.

When my whole world revolved around gambling, I could not put rules into place for myself

It was my responsibility

I knew it isn’t my fault but it does not mean it isn’t my responsibility. Occasionally, this thing happens... where you can clearly see what must be done, and it’s evident that what your addiction gives you isn’t worth what your addiction takes from you, and you think, that maybe... just maybe... it might be possible to do this. And maybe you do abstain from gambling [or any other addiction for that matter] for some period of time. But the illness/condition inevitably returns.

Unless... when you get that moment of clarity and strength [and perhaps most importantly, hope] you decide that you are going to hold on to it and do what it takes to keep it.

Ask someone you trust to handle your money. Install software on your computer or phone that won’t let you access gambling sites. Think of how you gamble and find ways to prevent it, so that when you don’t have the strength to stop, you won’t have access anyway.

It’s not easy. It’s not fun. But it’s worth it. You deserve to live your best life.


A version of this article was first published in the July 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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