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What does it mean to ‘recover’ from a gambling problem?

5th August 2016

Team Leader Rebecca takes a look at what 'recovery' may mean for someone with a gambling problem.

Many people contact our services when their gambling has become unmanageable for them. Their financial situation may have reached a head, or a family member has found out about the extent of their gambling. Whatever the reason, there is a recognition that something has to change. GamCare can help begin that process of change for many people, but when is the journey over? When can someone say they have ‘recovered’?

The important thing to recognise is that everyone is different, and that GamCare doesn't have a one-size fits all approach to helping someone with a gambling problem. Once someone has realised they are a 'problem gambler', that isn't a label they must wear forever, but we do know that gambling can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. That can’t be underestimated, and the memory of this can die hard.

Perhaps for some, the answer is simple: I’ve recovered when I have stopped gambling! But when can you say that you have reached this point?

For some, recovery can be days staying ‘free’ from gambling. On our recovery forum, we have a private function that can record the number of days since a person last gambled.

This will increase day by day if never changed and can be a powerful motivational tool for those who wish to put some distance between themselves and their gambling, creating a sense of achievement after a period of adversity.

We also have ‘challenge’ threads where members can encourage each other to stay gamble-free for a year, with a check in each week.

Realistically though, does having a certain number of 'gamble free days’ mean a person has recovered in every sense? A long run is an achievement, but it can be accompanied by dread that you might ‘slip’ and gamble again. Does a slip mean going right back to the beginning, or has something been learned along the way? Also, this could mean that a lot of energy is still going towards (not) gambling.

For Gamblers’ Anonymous, who offer 12-step programmes to their members, the idea of recovery is one that is never finished, it is an ongoing process that happens ‘one day at a time’. They expect that with each day a person’s life will get easier, but that recovery is never done.

Another way of thinking might be that problem gambling is a symptom of a larger problem in someone’s life. This might involve difficult personal challenges, such as dealing with loss or abuse, or feelings that are hard to cope with like loneliness. Perhaps recovery, then, involves looking at the underlying issue and resolving these. This could help you turn a corner, meaning that gambling or not gambling doesn't drain so much energy.

‘Can I ever gamble again?’ is a question that we often hear. Whilst no one can answer that question for the individual, it might be worth thinking that once ‘recovery’ is underway, you may no longer want to.

Whatever the answer, it is often a lively topic than gets discussed in our forum and chatrooms - join the discussion.