The most necessary (but most resisted) step all addicted gamblers must take...
One of the issues about behavioural addictions is that they are often taken less seriously than drug and alcohol addictions. Not least from a position of stigma – where behavioural addictions sometimes get equated to ‘a lack of willpower’ and ‘weak character’ etc, but I find that even the client him/herself is not always showing adequate respect for their addiction. This shows up as reluctance or in some cases flat out unwillingness to do the important work of blocking the access to the means that enable gambling to continue. As long as you are keen to put a definite end to the gambling, but find yourself still not focusing on creating these barriers – then you are operating as if the gambling is still under voluntary control at all times. if you take a good look at your current situation there should really be no question in your mind whether gambling has been fit for purpose for you -regardless of whether it was used as mental escape or simply as a form of pleasurable buzz. The long term consequences have now spoken for themselves; and if you had chosen, and had the control require to do so - this would not be your choice. You would not be visiting this blog otherwise.
For a more in-depth discussion around breaking out of denial and living in reality you can read my previous blog post here on this topic here. This present article is merely going to focus on the FIRST & ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY STEP that any gambler should take ASAP if they are serious about quitting:
Block/reduce your access to money. Yes, this is correct. No ifs, no buts. This NEEDS to happen. As an addicted gambler you are unlikely to be heading to a detox facility - you need to create your own detox environment. This cannot be achieved while still maitaning the same direct access to money….
Having worked with countless gamblers in treatment over the last 15 years, I am aware of the thoughts and resistances comes up when this suggestion is made. For many this is an already obvious step, but still one that has not been taken. For some, this is the one thing they still refuse to do; still they wonder how they end up relapsing frequently. And for those who have taken this step - the great news is that once the initial barriers are overcome, and the gambling calms down; the space from gambling finally is achieved, and some real great changes can start taking place. There is, however, no one strategy that I suggest as a clinician that is met with more resistance than this one.
Some of the common resistances are..
‘Yeah but I can always find money if I really want to… ‘
‘I should be able to recovery anyway (without blocking access to anything) – what’s the point if I have to live like a kid again anyway…’
‘if I am not gambling simply because I cannot get to my money it is not really recovery – then I am just forced to avoid it…so then there is no point’
‘no way can I live like this long term anyway’
‘but what if I had an emergency’
‘what kind of a man/woman would I be if I don’t have access to my own money…’
To set yourself straight, the first thing to remember that these restrictions are in place not because it replaces treatment. Or represent completion of your recovery. But because it forces you out of auto-pilot and habit mode and into a mode where at least some conscious processing must take place. You buy time, and with that you also give yourself more choice…
In my previous posts I have gone into depth in analysing these distortions. This can be worthwhile doing as time goes by. But for now, let’s just use a few simple facts as evidence for why this step needs to happen irrespective of how reluctant you currently feel:
a) Check your own track record with money – i.e, the facts of your gambling history. When did you ever NOT gamble when you had open access to money. Even if you were able to hang on to it for a day or so, if you still ended up gambling with it sooner or later, that is sufficient evidence to suggest that you will feel that way inclined again, given the same circumstances presenting. That’s why we don’t want to take that risk again.
b) If this was any other addiction – let’s say to a drug- would you think it was possible to walk around with the drug readily available in your pocket and yet be expected not to slip up? Money and a venue are the means required for you to fulfil your addiction. You need to at least disrupt your access to one of them! Remember your addiction as such does not care whether it is addicted to drugs or gambling; what I mean by that is that just because money is something that we also need in our daily life in a different way than we need say drugs- the addiction itself does not take this into consideration. Addiction is addiction in this respect. Please mind that it does not mean you have to live as a limited and infantalized adult for the rest of your days- there are loads of clever ways of not having direct access to your money but still be able to enjoy a rich lifestyle. You just need to problem solve this very well depending on your individual situation. Don’t forget that when you don’t end up gambling all the time, you can actually enjoy the feeling of having guaranteed money in your account at some stage as well. Not just betting on the potential that you could win some.
c) If you indeed did have control (and still argue that you do) as to whether you gambler or not when you have access to money – what reasons would you have to not have exerted that control all the other times? What I am suggesting here is that the continuous ideas of how you might be able to ‘work it out better the next time’ is part of your denial- even if I appreciate this is not what most people like to hear. The idea that ‘next time it will be different’ or ‘if I do it this way next time it might indeed work…’ is all based on delusional fantasy-based thinking; essentially it is your addiction talking. It is the part of your mind that is desperate to keep going back to gambling and it is firing away with convincing arguments for why you should just go ahead and do so. Many people report that by the time these kind of thoughts dictate their reasoning, they already know they are lying to themselves. Let us acknowledge; nobody would have liked to lose a lot (or all) of their money to gambling. You would not have chosen to do this consciously either, with a clear intellectual and emotional understanding of the circumstances to come, had you not been influenced by the power of your addiction. It is time to realise that your emotional brain can no longer be in charge of decision making. You need to put other powers in place to prevent further damage from taking place. The loss of control over your behaviour in relation to the gambling is a significant and unquestionable sign that you have lost control over your gambling, and this you must respect if you want to recover. If you don’t change your method of approaching your addiction – then sadly nothing is going to change!
Some of the better ways to take charge and cut your access to money includes:
having cards/cheque-books/cash/accounts managed by a loved one (appropriate if there is no risk for violent outbursts and/or excess conflict)
speaking with your bank about reducing withdrawal limits and ending overdraft agreements and credit lines
using one of the (now) many cards that disallows gambling - best one is probably MONZO but nowadays you can also use Barclays and Santander. There might be other ones already and many other banks will likely soon be following.
having one account for salary/income which you don’t have any access to but from which all bills/rent/mortgage go out on direct debit. Then another cash card or just cash for daily expenditures.
Bringing down the amount that you can access daily to an absolute minimum for what you need.
Reconsider the so called ‘emergencies’ for which you are carrying extra bank cards. If such an emergency was to take place- could you call someone then and get a card number for example?
Additionally do ensure that you block online access by using gamban® and or other methods of blocking sites where you have previously been gambling
There are many other solutions too- these are just a few examples to get you thinking.
One question that I get asked a lot, not just by my gambling addicted clients, but also by their family members, is: ‘For how long do we have to deal with these money restrictions?’
Again, I am going to tell you something nobody likes to hear. They are there to stay.
Do acknowledge however that the restrictions that are put in place in the early days can be changed into something more flexible and user-friendly as time progresses. The idea of not being able to purchase a coffee without producing a receipt or having to justify to a loved one is not a long-term formula. The long- term aim is, of course, to make these strategies as tight as possible without causing daily impairment and distress to those involved. Having too tight barriers and too much ‘checking’ can indeed produce negative results if they lead to constant conflict and resentment within families. There are however several factors to consider before you make changes to how the money has been managed, and any changes should generally be gradual and slow to ensure that the gambler is not getting triggered. I will cover these in a different article. Remember also that as time goes past you are going to get used to a brand new way of managing your finances, and although this feels really negative now – many report that this actually have many unexpected advantages in terms of ability to save, money-control and a sense of safety from the gambling itself.
Try to see the money restriction as as your second life in your recovery. You don’t want to run the risk of losing everything and ‘killing’ your recovery one more time. When all else fails, this barrier will help protect you. Like the airbag in your car. You would not consider disabling the airbag just because you feel you are becoming a better driver- don’t let this barrier go down just because you are well underway in your recovery. Yes the airbag does not in any way impact on your driving, but money restrictions- when used right- needn’t do so either. You can definitely adapt to having a harder time accessing your money - in fact it might turn out to have several unexpected bonuses.
With love, Annika