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The University of Texas at Austin - What Starts Here Changes The World The University of Texas at Austin Division of Student Affairs

Problem and Compulsive Gambling

CMHC Business Hours:
Monday thru Friday, 8:00am - 5:00pm
Phone: (512) 471-3515 - Student Services Building 5th Floor
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How to tell if gambling is a problem
Alternatives to gambling
What if a friend has a gambling problem?
Where can I find help?

One of the biggest problems related to gambling and other addictions is that the person engaging in the addictive behavior may be the last to realize there is a problem. You may have sought out this website because you wondered about your own gambling or the gambling habits of someone you care about. We're glad that you had the courage to do so, and hope the following information will increase your understanding of this issue.

What is gambling?

Risking money or valuables in hopes of winning more than you're risking is gambling. Calling it a "friendly bet" or saying "We're just making the game a little more interesting" does not alter the fact that it is still gambling.

Gambling can include betting on sporting events, playing on-line or video poker, playing cards, betting on games of skill, buying lottery tickets and many other activities.

Some people can gamble occasionally without it affecting their lives seriously, but many can't. A recent study estimates that three quarters of a million young adults in the United States engage in problem gambling. Closer to home, a study by the Texas Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling found that teenagers and young adults are at much greater risk for developing serious gambling problems than are adults.

Gambling addiction is a disease, similar to alcohol addiction, in that gamblers often lose control over their behavior and face serious consequences. For many people, gambling problems may increase in severity gradually. Over time, gambling may:

  • Become a way of trying to cope with or escape from life's stressors
  • Contribute to impaired judgment and risky behaviors
  • Isolate the gambler from others
  • Lead to feelings of shame and lowered self-esteem
  • Damage or destroy relationships

How to tell if gambling is a problem - Twenty Questions

  1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Has gambling affected your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Do you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Does gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing do you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win do you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Do you often gamble until your last dollar is gone?
  10. Do you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Are you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
  13. Does gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
  14. Have you ever gambled longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Does gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Do you ever have an urge to celebrate good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
Adapted from Gamblers Anonymous "20 Questions"

According to the Texas Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling, "problem gambling" is an early stage of the disease, characterized by personal and relationship problems related to gambling. "Compulsive gambling" is the advanced stage and involves behavior that is out of control.

  • If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, we would encourage you to consider your potential for "problem gambling."
  • If you answered "yes" to 3 or more of these questions, you are involved in "problem gambling."
  • If you answered "yes" to 7 or more, you may be a compulsive gambler.

Alternatives to gambling

For many people, anxiety, depression, or other emotions can trigger gambling urges. Gambling may seem like an easy or fun way to relieve stress, but there are many alternatives that are not associated with negative consequences. Exercise, deep breathing, and meditation can all be helpful in managing these feelings. Relaxation exercises are another great way to lessen anxiety.

What if a friend has a gambling problem?

One of the hardest things about helping people with gambling problems is that they are very likely to deny they have any problem even when it's obvious to people around them. "It's no problem for me. I can quit any time I want." "It's not a big deal. I can cover my debts." "When I'm hot, I win back even more than I've lost." "My friends all bet on college football--it's just for fun."

If you think a friend has a gambling problem, show your concern. Don't avoid the topic. Do avoid lectures and verbal attacks. Don't continue the conversation if you begin to feel impatient or angry. You may encounter defensiveness and denial. Don't take this personally, but make it clear you're concerned and tell the person how his or her gambling behavior affects you. You may have to set limits with the person. Don't be persuaded into excusing, justifying, overlooking, enabling or participating in the person's self-defeating behaviors. Helping a friend pay a debt may seem to temporarily alleviate the problem, but it can actually perpetuate the problem by contributing to a feeling of invincibility that some gamblers develop.

If the person agrees that he or she has a problem, try to:

  • Remain supportive and reinforce even small efforts toward change.
  • Be prepared for some steps backward as a normal part of the recovery process.
  • Help the person make contact with recovering gamblers and organizations like Gamblers Anonymous.
  • Encourage activities that are not related to gambling, and curb your own gambling behaviors.
  • Educate yourself about problem and compulsive gambling.

Where can I find help?

National Council on Problem Gambling:
24-hour Confidential National Helpline: 1-800-522-4700

Gamblers Anonymous International (GA)
Consult this site for a list of meetings worldwide. Contact them at 213-386-8789 for more information.
The Austin Chapter of GA will be able to tell you where and when meetings are held locally: 512-860-2958.

Where can I find help?

UT's Counseling & Mental Health Center (CMHC)
Call 512-471-3515 for information on setting up an appointment with a counselor.
CMHC also offers the CMHC Crisis Line: dial 512-471-CALL for a telephone counselor.

Other resources
A website with additional information on problem and compulsive gambling.

Born to Lose: Memoirs of a Compulsive Gambler by Bill Lee
The compelling autobiography of a man who struggled with gambling in many forms before learning to understand his addiction.
A website with information on a twelve-step program for problem gamblers' spouses, family members, or close friends.

Your First Step To Change
Your First Step to Change is an interactive website to help you gauge the impacts of gambling behavior and consider how to change it.

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