Ask Erin: Am I A Gambling Addict? 

Like all addictions, step one is coming clean with your problem.

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all. 


Q.

Dear Erin,

I'm afraid I'm addicted to gambling.

A close friend of mine took me to a casino recently and gave me "seed money," which led to me winning about $100!

A couple of days later, when I had time before work, I went and gambled again, walking away just about even.

I can't afford to lose; I'm barely scraping by as it is. I know I shouldn't go back, but every time I drive by I'm really tempted just to go blow "$10" and forget about all the things that are stressing me out.

I've got to find a new job, I'm adopting a kid, and my wife and I are both disabled, so that's leading to stress in my life too. Even the good stuff feels super overwhelming, and I feel like when I am at the casino, I don't have to be overwhelmed or think about what's up in my life.

Am I an addict? How do I work through this?

A.

There is an evolving definition of gambling disorders in the DSM (the merits of which are debatable). However, in my experience, addictions of all kinds require some level of self-diagnosis — meaning that part of assessing addiction requires the addict to recognize it

I am not a doctor, but I have a vast amount of experience with a variety of addictions and have been close to people whose addictions included gambling. And, like with all of the -isms (because I do believe that addictions all function along the lines of alcoholism), the fact that your gut knows something is significant.

The urge to escape the stress and all the overwhelming stuff in your life is 100% normal. We ALL feel that need. The difference with addicts is that we funnel that into behaviors that cause us harm, and in reality create more stress. 

When I first got sober, I remember hearing, countless times, that “normal” people don’t lie awake at night wondering if they’re addicts. I like to think of it as a warning system in our brain, that little voice telling you that you’re participating in self-destructive behavior. 

The urge to escape the stress and all the overwhelming stuff in your life is 100% normal. We ALL feel that need. The difference with addicts is that we funnel that into behaviors that cause us harm, and in reality create more stress. 

For years, I would go through cycles of “chipping” — basically the prelude to a relapse, in which I would use a little heroin here and there, in a false sense of control, as stress relief. But, this ALWAYS turned into full-blown use, again and again. Although you haven’t been gambling long, what you’re doing now is akin to chipping. 

What concerns me is that when we activate the brain reward pathways with addictive behavior, it becomes harder and harder to break that pattern

So, how can you work through this? 

The good news is that you haven’t been doing this long. 

My first suggestion is to check out a Gamblers Anonymous meeting (which you can find nationwide). 

Although there are naysayers, I have learned through many years of experience that 12-step meetings are truly the best place to start. If you need region-specific resources, I would be happy to give you further recommendations. 

Secondly, open up to your wife. 

The machinery of any addiction includes secrecy, and the faster you open up and get those secrets out to those closest to you, the harder it will be for you to continue the behavior. 

Addiction leaves us feeling so alone. 

We become isolated in the shame cycle that our behavior brings. This is often what prevents people from getting honest and getting help. The fact that you reached out to me and recognized there might be a burgeoning problem is an enormous first step. 

Follow that instinct and get yourself some help. If you haven’t done so, it may be worth speaking with a licensed therapist, as well. There are sliding-scale and low-cost options out there. (Again, please email me back if you need resources in your area.) Depression and other mental health issues are often concurrent with addiction. 

You don’t have to do this alone. 


If you have a question for me about relationships, boundaries, friendship, sex, addiction, Iolite, reproductive issues, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at rarelywrongerin@gmail.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo

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