Gambling Anonymous: Is It As Effective As AA?

Updated May 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Walking into a grocery store, you may immediately be greeted by a large machine, not unlike a vending machine offering tantalizing snacks, promising riches if you’ll only toss in a couple of dollars. A drive through the United States might reveal large signs, emblazoned with the word “casino,” also offering untold sums, if only you’ll stop by for a few minutes. A quick click around the internet and you might find a hint of an online poker game, or another game designed to test your odds, all with the promise of great reward. Whether you choose to put in a few dollars, turn off the highway, or click on a link, the addictive nature of gambling is very real, and the corresponding addiction can quickly take hold. Fortunately, for many, programs like Gamblers Anonymous can act as a source of support, understanding, and motivation for overcoming addiction.

Are You Experiencing Signs Of A Gambling Addiction?

What Constitutes A Gambling Addiction?

A gambling habit and gambling addiction are not the same things, though a gambling habit could easily be the entryway to addiction. The difference between “normal” and addictive behavior lies primarily in compulsion—is the behavior legitimately under control, indulged in intentionally, or has it become a matter of course, a matter of survival, or a matter of necessity? These basic questions can help determine the degree of addiction involved in gambling and can help identify how quickly the behavior is escalating.

The question of addiction and compulsion is often one of necessity: do you or a loved one feel as though you need to gamble? Could you stop gambling at any moment, or would you itch for more? These are the most common symptoms of gambling addiction (also called pathological gambling), but other symptoms include:

  • An unusual preoccupation with gambling. If you throw a few dollars onto the table at a weekly poker game and think little of it until the next game rolls around, you may engage in a healthier form of gambling. If, however, you throw down your wallet at a weekly poker game and cannot think about winning more or winning it back the next week, it may be cause for concern.
  • Escalating behavior. If the desire to gamble is coupled with a need to lay down larger and larger bets, addiction could be at play. Much in the same way an individual with a substance use disorder might resort to taking in larger amounts of a substance to receive the same response, compulsive gamblers may need to increase the amount being gambled to feel the same sense of elation.
  • An inability to stop. If you are unable to stop gambling, despite numerous attempts, it may be a sign that something deeper than a harmless hobby is developing.
  • Living in a chaotic environment to support gambling. Shifting money around to make sure there is plenty to gamble while neglecting bills, a mortgage, food, and other necessities often indicates the presence of addiction.
  • Evasive behavior. Lying, stealing, and hiding the signs of gambling can all be clues that point to a gambling addiction. Although they are not necessarily indications themselves of an addiction, in conjunction with a habit-forming substance or behavior, these behaviors may suggest that something has gone awry.

Learning that compulsive gambling has entered your life or the life of a loved one can be frightening; any form of addiction may carry potentially severe consequences. Fortunately, addiction is a very treatable disorder, and gambling addiction is among the disorders that respond well to treatment.

The Basis Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is not a treatment program, necessarily, but is instead designed as something of a cross between a support system, an accountability partnership, and a strategy to work through the root of the reason for addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous is a recovery program based on the notion that addiction has reached a place where life has become unmanageable. This is the basis for recovery in AA: the notion that something has to change. 

Family, friends, and fellow attendees may also be a part of an individual’s treatment process and recovery, as one of the core concepts of AA is the idea of community and accountability. Living as though you exist in a vacuum often continually contributes to addictive behavior, as you may not recognize or respond to the gravity of your actions. Loved ones are often the people who bring the notion of a gambling disorder to light and can provide a great deal of encouragement along the road to recovery.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Transferring AA Basics To Gamblers Anonymous

Although Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on a physical substance, the principles of the program remain the same in Gamblers Anonymous. Although it may be argued that alcohol and narcotics are habit-forming substances, and therefore exist in a class outside of gambling, behaviors like betting can have a very real physical effect on the human brain. For many people, gambling “lights up” the brain’s pleasure and rewards centers much in the same way as habit-forming substances, food, and physical pleasure. 

Just as Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on abstinence from the substance, working through a step-by-step process, and making right any wrongs that occurred during an individual’s addiction, Gamblers Anonymous focuses on recovering, healing, and removing the presence of gambling from a person’s life. Some programs may also encourage the use of a sponsor who functions as something of an accountability partner and mentor. 

Gambling And Mental Health

Like many substance use disorders, a gambling addiction is often accompanied by other mental health conditions, including mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. This is because addictive disorders rarely function in a vacuum; addictive disorders typically demonstrate unhealthy coping habits, which are often fueled by other areas of need. That means that an unaddressed gambling addiction can have serious implications for a person’s mental health in the long-term, especially if other consequences–such as damaged relationships or an inability to pay living expenses–are piled on top. Treatment, then, can be crucial. 

Is Gamblers Anonymous As Effective As AA?

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Are You Experiencing Signs Of A Gambling Addiction?

When used appropriately, Gamblers Anonymous can be an effective tool on the step toward recovery. The key here is using it appropriately; it is not designed to take the place of legitimate mental health professionals, but is instead intended to be used as a source of support and personal work, both of which have been proven to be helpful for individuals living with addiction. 

When asking if Gamblers Anonymous is effective, the answer is simple: it generally yields what you put into it. Simply attending meetings, remaining distant, and refusing to engage with the literature will likely not produce significant results, but reading through the materials, working to understand the experiences of others, and building community can all help improve the chances of recovering from addiction.

Although the “anonymous” programs were initially developed for alcohol use disorders, the principles contained within them remain the same: addiction has made life unmanageable, and one of the most effective ways to get to the other side may be to look at the reasons the addiction developed to begin with. This often requires frightening honesty, boldness in correcting mistakes, and taking personal responsibility—all of which can be painful to experience.

That being said, “anonymous” programs consistentlydemonstrate greater outcomes in addiction, with more people who attend AA or similar meetings continuing a program of abstinence after a period of 1-2 years. For this reason, many individuals who have recovered themselves encourage those living with addiction to seek out a local Gamblers Anonymous as part of a robust, comprehensive treatment plan.

Therapy For Gambling Addictions

In addition to participating in programs like Gamblers Anonymous, seeking the care of a mental health professional can be an integral piece of the path toward recovery. A therapist who understands the nature and challenges of a gambling addiction may be able to help you identify what tends to trigger unwanted behavior, understand why you may feel the need to gamble, and learn to develop other routines that can help you lead the life you want to. 

Resources like online therapy may make it even easier to feel comfortable working through difficult experiences and overcoming personal challenges. Because you can speak with a therapist from the comfort of your own home, online therapy allows you to have control over when and where you receive treatment. Plus, not having to drive to and from an in-person office can make fitting mental health support into your schedule much more straightforward.  

Therapy in general can be helpful for treating addiction even when conducted over the web. A recent study, for instance, shows that online therapy may be an effective treatment option for reducing behaviors tied to gambling addiction. If you’d like to take charge of your habits and redefine your relationship with gambling, online therapy might be a great place to start.


Gamblers Anonymous, an addiction support and recovery program modeled after the basic tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous, can be an effective and meaningful experience for those living with an addiction. Because it utilizes a model that’s designed to promote reflection, connection, and healing, Gamblers Anonymous can help promote success in daily life. When combined with the care of a professional, programs like these may be the difference between change and repeating unwanted behaviors.

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