Before reading on, stop and think about gambling…
What did you imagine? Bustling casino tables, reckless rolls of the dice, excited guys winning heaps of bank notes? These images feature for most of us. Probably in gambling scenarios we picture mostly men. But, women do gamble and develop devastating addictions.
And one of these women has finally managed to stop. After relapsing many times despite treatment, Rachel at last found her way back to a happy and healthy life.
Women who Gamble
Gambling addiction in women contradicts conventional images.
Women who gamble have an addiction which arguably is the most destructive and gamble not socially, but in secret.
The secrecy gambling offers adds to the devastating consequences, as there are far fewer obvious symptoms than with drug or alcohol misuse. Limitless amounts of time and money can be lost before somebody spots her gambling problem.
Women most often develop addiction to slot machines or internet gambling as each offer a sense not so much of excitement but escapism through total focus. Women often report feeling ‘sucked into the screen’ and out of their day-to-day problems. When gambling online, if the screen to her computer, tablet, or smart phone remains hidden, so does her gambling problem.
Rather than initially gambling for money, women with gambling addiction start out trying to buy time out of something intolerable. Focus on gambling helps to take control of racing thoughts, through absolute absorption in the activity. The real ‘win’ they experience is time out of their crippling anxiety, spiraling stress or dark depression.
The obsession with winning money is a consequence of gambling addiction; when all is lost, there is no more to beg, steal or borrow, it seems the only way out of the double trouble she is now in, is to gamble again and again and again… hanging on to the hope that by gambling she may win her way back out of the pit of debt and so avoid the pain and shame of facing the terrible damage done to finances and family.
Withdrawal from gambling, and facing losses of time and money wasted gambling, is painful. She needs courage to face guilt, shame and self-blame.
The recovery process involves not only stopping gambling, but facing the issues which gambling was helping to hide; such as the stress, depression and anxiety. Gambling helped her to escape and the reasons why she felt this way. Women in recovery often experience relapse at the point of being a few weeks gambling free. No longer preoccupied by gambling and devastating debt, remembering what gambling had helped them to run from drives them running right back to it.
Rachel came into treatment with me when she was forty eight years old and had been gambling for fifteen years, addicted to slot machines and internet gambling. She had been battling her addiction to gambling for the last ten years.
Her First Session
Rachel had tried behavioral-focused therapy with four different therapists and attended a support group each week, yet she regularly relapsed. When Rachel arrived at our first therapy session, she was feeling highly anxious, depressed, ashamed, riddled with guilt for the harm her gambling had done to her marriage and for how she had neglected her daughter, wasting so much money and time on gambling.
I asked Rachel to tell me about her life. Experience has shown me that nobody just wakes up one morning and decides to wreck their lives, and the lives of people they love, by becoming an addict.
Addiction grows because – however senseless and destructive the consequences – initially the behavior seems to makes sense for survival.
Rachel hesitantly shared with me that at age fifteen, she was sexually abused by an uncle and did not tell her parents as she feared they would be ashamed of her. She did not of course forget the abuse and had started feeling more and more anxious, angry and depressed and that was when Rachel became anorexic. She found that by focusing on controlling what she ate, she controlled her thoughts and feelings, by distraction. When she could no longer hide her weight loss, a hospital stay stopped the eating disorder but as Rachel tearfully told me “not once did anybody ask me why I was prepared to risk my by life starving myself.” So, the behavior was temporarily stopped, but not the motivation for it; her anxiety, anger and depression, still causing her pain.
Her First Gambling Experience
Rachel battled on and off with anorexia until she was thirty when she met her husband, a regular, but controlled, casino gambler. One evening whilst her husband was playing roulette, Rachel played a slot machine.
She found that the repetition of feeding coins into the machine, staring at the screen, the lights and sounds absorbed her. A little win lifted her mood. She began to visit gaming centers alone, to play when she felt, sad, anxious, angry and depressed. Gambling replaced anorexia. Both could be hidden, both helped to control her painful feelings about the abuse. Both ultimately only gave her more pain.
Focus of treatment for both so far had been stopping the behavior, but ignoring the reasons it started.
Happily, Rachel is over one year into recovery. She is healthy and is living a rewarding life. How did she get there?
- Supportive therapy addressing the gambling behavior and identifying and resolving reasons for it.
- Turning guilt into self-forgiveness. Self-hatred drives relapse. Understanding reasons for gambling addiction drives self-forgiveness and moving on.
- Learning to express anxiety, anger and sadness, easing craving to suppress them with gambling.
- Learning to trust in others for support.
- Learning to trust in herself again: with money, making healthy choices, self-care.
- Proving to others she is trustworthy: with money, being honest, reliable.
- Developing problem solving skills, so easing cravings to gamble for escape.
- Learning healthier relationship skills: closer family and friendships replacing the devastating relationship with addiction.
Rachel recovered. With the right help and support anyone can experience Rachel’s rewards. It is always possible to stop gambling and move beyond addiction, into living.
Responding to the need for treatment to meet the needs of women who gamble, Liz established the first UK women's groups for problem gambling in 2006. These highly successful groups still run through Liz's independent practice, Level Ground.
With a great reputation for making sense of addiction in an approachable, plain English style, Liz has appeared in numerous national & international TV, radio & newsprint interviews including Al Jazeera America, BBC Breakfast News, BBC Radio & Sky News.
Along with many papers and articles, Liz is author of two books 'Women and Problem Gambling: therapeutic insights into understanding addiction and treatment' and 'Working with Women's Groups for Problem Gambling: treating gambling addiction through relationship'.
Latest posts by Liz Karter (see all)
- Woman Relapsed to Gambling Addiction More than 20 Times. This is her Path to Recovery. - March 23, 2017
- Regaining Trust in Relationship After Addiction - August 11, 2016