Common Questions

What is "Compulsive Gambling"

Compulsive gambling is an illness, progressive in its nature, which can never be cured, but can be arrested.

Before coming to Gamblers Anonymous many compulsive gamblers thought of themselves as morally weak, or at times just plain “no good”. The Gamblers Anonymous concept is that compulsive gamblers are really very sick people who can recover if they will follow to the best of their ability a simple program that has proved successful for thousands of other men and women with a gambling or compulsive gambling problem.

Definition of Gambling

Gambling, for the compulsive gambler is defined as follows:

Any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or “skill”constitutes gambling.

How can you tell if you are a compulsive gambler?

Only you can make that decision. Most people turn to Gamblers Anonymous when they become willing to admit that gambling has them licked. Also in Gamblers Anonymous, a compulsive gambler is described as a person whose gambling has caused growing and continuing problems in any department of his or her life.

Many Gamblers Anonymous members went through terrifying experiences before they were ready to accept help. Others were faced with a slow, subtle deterioration which finally brought them to the point of admitting defeat.

GA has developed a series of questions that can assist you in determining whether you are a compulsive gambler.

Is knowing why we gambled important?

Perhaps, however insofar as stopping gambling, many Gamblers Anonymous members have abstained from gambling without the benefit of the knowledge of why they gambled.

The "Dream World of the Compulsive Gambler"

This is another common characteristic of compulsive gamblers. A lot of time is spent creating images of the great and wonderful things they are going to do as soon as they make the big win. They often see themselves as quite philanthropic and charming people. They may dream of providing families and friends with new cars, mink coats and other luxuries. Compulsive gamblers picture themselves leading a pleasant gracious life, made possible by the huge sums of money they will accrue from their “system”. Servants, penthouses, nice clothes, charming friends, yachts and world tours are a few of the wonderful things that are just around the corner after a big win is finally made.

Pathetically, however, there never seems to be a big enough winning to make even the smallest dream come true. When compulsive gamblers succeed, they gamble to dream still greater dreams. When failing, they gamble in reckless desperation and the depths of their misery are fathomless as their dream world comes crashing down. Sadly, they will struggle back, dream more dreams and of course suffer more misery. No one can convince them that their great schemes will not someday come true. They believe they will, for without this dream world, life for them would not be tolerable.

Does this mean I can't participate in Penny Ante games or World Series pools?

It means exactly that. A stand has to be made somewhere and Gamblers Anonymous members have found the first bet is the one to avoid, even though it may be as little as matching for a cup of coffee.

Do Gamblers Anonymous members go into gambling places to help former members who are still gambling?

No. Families and friends of these people have asked us to intercede but we have never been able to be of any real help. Actually, sometimes we felt we retarded a member’s eventual recovery by giving them this unsolicited attention. It all goes back to the basic principle that a gambler ought to want help before he or she is approached by us.

Can a person recover by themself, by reading Gamblers Anonymous literature or medical books on the problem of compulsive gambling?

Sometimes, but not usually. The Gamblers Anonymous program works best for the individual when it is recognized and accepted as a program involving other people. Working with other compulsive gamblers in a Gamblers Anonymous group the individual seems to find the necessary understanding and support. They are able to talk of their past experiences and present problems in an area where they are comfortable and accepted. Instead of feeling alone and misunderstood, they feel needed and accepted.

Why are Gamblers Anonymous members anonymous?

Anonymity has great practical value in maintaining unity within our fellowship. Through its practice at the level of press, radio, films and television we have eliminated the possibility of fame and recognition being given to the individual member; hence, we have not been faced with any great internal struggles for power and prestige which would prove highly detrimental to our essential unity.

Anonymity also has great value in attracting new members who initially might feel there is a stigma attached to the problem. Therefore, we guarantee the newcomer as much anonymity as they choose.

More importantly, we are beginning to realize that anonymity has tremendous spiritual significance. It represents a powerful reminder that we need always place principles above personalities.

Our survival as individuals demands that we renounce personal gratification . . . so our Gamblers Anonymous movement not only advocates but tries to practice true humility and it is through greater humility that we will be able to live in peace and security for all the years to come.

Do Gamblers Anonymous members have to attend meetings the rest of their lives?

Compulsive gamblers who have been relieved of their obsession to gamble with the help of Gamblers Anonymous realize as they continue in the Fellowship that they are launched on a lifetime program of self-examination and self-improvement. Gamblers Anonymous members discover that there is no shortcut to building a new future for themselves. These things take time. Because of this, and the need to constantly identify their experiences with others with similar problems, Gamblers Anonymous members soon begin to look forward to a lifetime association in the Gamblers Anonymous Fellowship. It also help new members when they can see success by example.

How often do Gamblers Anonymous members have to attend meetings?

Experience has shown that recovering members do not let a week go by without attending at least one Gamblers Anonymous meeting. When members start missing meetings, sooner or later they seem to get into trouble in one area of their life. The phrase “keep coming to meetings” is heard frequently. It is based on the experience of those who have found that they jeopardize the recovery that Gamblers Anonymous offers when they fail to attend weekly meetings.

What is the recovery program?

It is a 12 step program which members use for personal growth. By using the program in their daily affairs, compulsive gamblers have not only diminished the desire to gamble but have improved all other aspects of their lives.

When a compulsive gambler applies the 12 step Recovery Program in their life, their disintegration stops and their recovery begins. Since these steps are basically spiritual in their concept, their practice can become a highly rewarding experience.

Are there any Gamblers Anonymous groups in penal institutions?

Yes. The first of many started in January, 1962 in Chino Prison in California and has proven to be a tremendous success. Since then there are Gamblers Anonymous Prison Groups which have been established in many other regions throughout the world.

Does Gamblers Anonymous want to abolish gambling?

No. Gamblers Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues. Therefore, Gamblers Anonymous has no opinion on abolishing gambling

What is the first thing a compulsive gambler ought to do in order to stop gambling?

The compulsive gambler needs to be willing to accept the fact that he or she is in the grip of a progressive illness and has a desire to get well. Our experience has shown that the Gamblers Anonymous program will always work for any person who has a desire to stop gambling. However, it will never work for the person who will not face squarely the facts about this illness.

How does someone stop gambling through the Gamblers Anonymous program?

Inability and unwillingness to accept reality. Hence the escape into the dream world of gambling.
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Emotional insecurity.

A compulsive gambler finds he or she is emotionally comfortable only when “in action”. It is not uncommon to hear a Gamblers Anonymous member say: “The only time I felt like I belonged was when I was gambling. Then I felt secure and comfortable. No great demands were made upon me. I knew I was destroying myself, yet at the same time, I had a certain sense of security.”

Immaturity, A desire to have all the good things in life without any great effort on their part seems the common character pattern of problem gamblers. Many Gamblers Anonymous members accept the fact that they were unwilling to grow up. Subconsciously they felt they could avoid mature responsibility by wagering on the spin of a wheel or the turn of a card, and so the struggle to escape responsibility finally became a subconscious obsession.

Also, a compulsive gambler seems to have a strong inner urge to be a “big shot” and needs to have a feeling of being all powerful. The compulsive gambler is willing to do anything (often of an anti-social nature) to maintain the image he or she wants others to see.
Then too, there is a theory that compulsive gamblers subconsciously want to lose to punish themselves. There is much evidence to support this theory.

Isn't compulsive gambling basically a financial problem?

No. Compulsive gambling is an emotional problem. A person in the grip of this illness creates mountains of apparently insolvable problems. Of course, financial problems are created, but they also find themselves facing marital, employment, or legal problems.

Compulsive gamblers find friends have been lost, and relatives have rejected them. Of the many serious difficulties created, the financial problems seem the easiest to solve. When a compulsive gambler enters Gamblers Anonymous and quits gambling, income is usually increased and there is no longer the financial drain that was caused by gambling, and very shortly the financial pressures begin to be relieved.

Gamblers Anonymous member have found that the best road to financial recovery is through hard work and repayments of our debts. Borrowing and/or lending of money (bailouts) in Gamblers Anonymous is detrimental to our recovery and should not take place.

The most difficult and time consuming problem with which they will be faced is that of bringing about a character change within themselves. Most Gamblers Anonymous members look upon this as their greatest challenge which should be worked on immediately and continued throughout their lives.

Can a compulsive gambler ever gamble normally again?

No. The first bet to a problem gambler is like the first small drink to an alcoholic. Sooner or later he or she falls back into the same old destructive pattern.

Once a person has crossed the invisible line into irresponsible uncontrolled gambling he or she never seems to regain control. After abstaining a few months some of our members have tried some small bet experimentation, always with disastrous results. The old obsession inevitably returned.

Our Gamblers Anonymous experience seems to point to these alternatives: To gamble, risking progressive deterioration or not to gamble, and develop a better way of life.

I only go on gambling binges periodically. Do I need Gambers Anonymous?

Yes. Compulsive gamblers who have joined Gamblers Anonymous tell us that, though their gambling binges were periodic, the intervals between were not periods of constructive thinking. Symptomatic of these periods were nervousness, irritability, frustration, indecision and a continued breakdown in personal relationships. The same people have often found the Gamblers Anonymous program the answer to the elimination of character defects and a guide to moral progress in their lives.

Who can join Gamblers Anonymous?

Anyone who has a desire to stop gambling. There are no other rules or regulations concerning Gamblers Anonymous membership.

If I join Gamblers Anonymous, won't everyone know I am a compulsive gambler?

Most people made quite a name for themselves as full-fledged gamblers by the time they turned to Gamblers Anonymous. Their gambling was not usually a well kept secret. It would then be unusual if the good news of their abstinence from gambling did not cause comment. However, no disclosure of any affiliation with Gamblers Anonymous can rightfully be made by anyone but the members themselves. Even then, it should be done in such a way that will work no hardship on the Gamblers Anonymous fellowship.

How much does it cost to join Gamblers Anonymous?

There are no assessments in connection with Gamblers Anonymous membership. The newcomer signs nothing and pledges nothing. However, we do have expenses relative to our group meeting and our Gamblers Anonymous service facilities. Since Gamblers Anonymous has traditionally been fully self supporting and declines outside contributions, these expenses are met through voluntary financial support by the members. Experience has shown that acceptance of these financial responsibilities is a vital part of our individual and group growth process.

How does a person join Gamblers Anonymous?

In the usual sense of the word, no one “joins” Gamblers Anonymous. A gambler becomes a member by attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings in his or her community. Individuals declare that they are members by their affiliation and regular attendance.

If I stop gambling won't it make it difficult for me to keep some desirable business and social contacts?

We think not. Most of the world’s work of any consequence is done without the benefit of monetary wagering. Many of our leaders in business, industry and professional life have attained great success without knowing one card from another or which way the horses run around the track. In the area of social relationships, the newcomer will soon find a keen appreciation of the many pleasant and stimulating activities available – far removed from anything that is remotely associated from gambling.

Is Gamblers Anonymous a religious society?

No. Gamblers Anonymous is composed of people from many religious faiths along with agnostics and atheists. Since membership in Gamblers Anonymous requires no particular religious belief as a condition of membership, it cannot be described as a religious society. The Gamblers Anonymous recovery program is based on acceptance of certain spiritual values but the member is free to interpret these principles as he chooses.

What is the meaning of the word 'spiritual' as it is used in the Gamblers Anonymous fellowship?

The word “spiritual” can be said to describe those characteristics of the human mind that represent the highest and finest qualities such as kindness, generosity, honesty and humility. Inasmuch as the Gamblers Anonymous Fellowship advocates consideration of these principles as a way of life, it is said that ours is a spiritual fellowship.