Gamblers Anonymous: Is It As Effective As Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Opportunities to partake in gambling are often plentiful in the United States. You may be greeted by light-up machines offering lotto tickets when walking into a grocery store. A drive through the country might reveal signs emblazoned with the word “casino,” also offering financial wins to any interested persons passing by. You might find games designed to test your odds, promising rewards online or even free money to begin using the program.  

Whether you put in a few dollars, turn off the highway, or click on a link, the addictive nature of gambling is real, and the corresponding addiction can take hold. However, for some with a desire to stop gambling, programs like Gambling Anonymous can provide, hope, support, understanding, and motivation in overcoming addiction. Understanding the effectiveness of these programs may be the first step in asking for help and overcoming this common problem. If you live with gambling dependency, you’re not alone.

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What constitutes a gambling addiction?

A gambling habit and gambling addiction are not the same, though a gambling habit may sometimes be the entryway to addiction. The difference between “normal” and addictive behavior lies in compulsion and effect. This can impact men, women, and individuals with other identities – anyone who gambles in person or online can experience the risk of becoming a compulsive gambler. 

To understand whether you are experiencing a compulsive behavior, ask yourself whether the behavior is legitimately under control, indulged in intentionally, or seems out of control. Self-enquiry may help you determine the severity of a gambling problem and how quickly the behavior escalates. 

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, gambling disorder is listed as a condition that can occur when gambling addiction becomes compulsive and severely impacts one’s daily functioning. The following are the most common symptoms of pathological gambling or gambling disorder.  

Extreme preoccupation with gambling 

If you sometimes gamble and rarely think about it between events, you might not be living with a gambling disorder. However, if you spend all your money on daily gambling or a weekly poker game and your thoughts center on winning as you await the next game, you might have cause for concern. 

Escalating behaviors 

If the desire to gamble is coupled with the desire to lay down more significant bets each time, you might have an addiction. Like how an individual with a substance use disorder might resort to taking in more significant amounts of a substance to receive the same response, compulsive gamblers may feel the need to increase the amount being gambled to experience the same thrill they experienced the first time they gambled. 

Extreme difficulty stopping your behavior 

It may signify more than a harmless hobby if you struggle to stop gambling despite numerous attempts. Addiction often causes individuals to experience a sense of not being in control of their behaviors. 

Neglect of survival needs 

Shifting money around to ensure you have enough to gamble while neglecting bills, rent, a mortgage, food, and other necessities often indicates the presence of addiction.

Evasive behavior

Lying, stealing, and hiding the signs of gambling can be clues you might be living with an addiction. Although these behaviors on their own may not be a sign of addiction, alongside a habit-forming behavior, they can be. 

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Gambling and mental health

Like substance use disorders, gambling disorder is often accompanied by other mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Addiction often co-occurs with other conditions because they can demonstrate unhealthy coping habits, often fueled by other areas of need. 

An unaddressed gambling addiction can have profound long-term implications for a person’s mental health, especially if other consequences–such as damaged relationships or an inability to pay living expenses–are piled on top. Some people may experience traumatic events because of losing their financial stability while gambling, which can lead to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

Is gambling disorder treatable? 

Learning that compulsive gambling has entered your life or the life of a loved one can be frightening, as addiction can have severe consequences. However, gambling disorder is treatable, and there are many ways to find support, including support groups. 

Alcoholics Anonymous as an example for gambling support groups 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is not a treatment program but a support system, accountability partnership, and a strategy to solve the equation of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous is a recovery program based on the notion that addiction has reached a place where life has become unmanageable. People going into AA acknowledge that they have come to an impasse and want to make a 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 may contribute to addictive behavior, as you may not recognize or respond to the gravity of your actions. While it’s recommended that those seeking support join a meeting once a week, some may find strength and solidarity in attending multiple days a week to surround themselves with others trying to overcome addiction. Loved may bring the notion of a gambling disorder to light and encourage the road to recovery. These ideals are the same concepts brought to Gamblers Anonymous (GA), a similar support group.

Transferring AA concepts 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 an actual physical effect on the human brain, as well. For some, gambling “lights up” the brain’s pleasure and rewards centers in the same way as habit-forming substances, food, and physical pleasure. 

Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on abstinence from substances, working through a step-by-step process, and righting wrongs during an individual’s addiction. Gamblers Anonymous focuses on recovering, achieving accountability, and removing the presence of gambling from a person’s life. Some programs may also encourage using a sponsor who functions as an accountability partner and mentor. 

Is Gamblers Anonymous as effective as AA?

When used appropriately, Gamblers Anonymous can be an effective tool for recovery. However, it can be vital to use the group appropriately, knowing it is not designed to replace a licensed mental health program or therapist. Instead, GA is intended as a source of peer support, which may be helpful for those who have lost relationships with those they love due to their addiction. 

Gamblers Anonymous may be effective if effort is put into the process. Attending meetings, remaining distant, and refusing to engage with the literature may not produce significant results. However, reading through the materials, attempting to understand the experiences of others, and building community can improve the chances of recovering from addiction.

Although the series of “Anonymous” programs were initially developed for alcohol use disorders, their principles remain the same. In GA, the group posits that addiction has made life unmanageable and that one of the most effective ways to get to the other side is to examine how the addiction developed. Examining the causes of your gambling addiction may require honesty, boldness in correcting mistakes, and taking personal responsibility, which may be challenging. 

According to studies, “Anonymous” programs consistently demonstrate more significant outcomes in addiction, with more people attending AA or similar meetings continuing a program of abstinence after one to two years. For this reason, some individuals who have recovered encourage those living with addiction to seek out a local Gamblers Anonymous as part of a comprehensive treatment plan alongside other treatment options. 

Gambling Anonymous mission statement: How to find a chapter

The Gamblers Anonymous official group website states the primary goal of Gamblers Anonymous is to help group members come to terms with difficult truths. They state, “We learned we had to concede fully to our innermost selves that we are compulsive gamblers. This is the first step in our recovery. With reference to gambling, the delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. We have lost the ability to control our gambling.” 

Individuals interested in learning more about how to break compulsions and delusions surrounding gambling may benefit from trying a meeting with GA. GA offers meetings in all 50 states in the US and hotlines in some states.

For those experiencing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals can participate in group meetings over video chat or phone calls.

If you live internationally, meetings can be found on GA’s international meetings webpage.

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Therapy for gambling addictions and compulsive gamblers 

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 incite unwanted behavior, the reasons you gamble, and routines that can help you take back your life.  

If you struggle to afford in-person therapy due to your addiction, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial. Because you can speak with a therapist using only a device and an internet connection, online therapy allows you to control when and where you receive treatment. In addition, not having to drive to and from an in-person office can make fitting mental health support into your schedule more straightforward.  

Online therapy has been proven effective for many mental health concerns. A recent study found that online therapy could be an effective treatment option for reducing behaviors tied to gambling addiction

Takeaway

Gamblers Anonymous, an addiction support and recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, can be a practical and meaningful experience for those living with a gambling addiction or gambling disorder. Because it utilizes a model designed to promote reflection, connection, and healing, Gamblers Anonymous may promote success in daily life. 
When combined with the care of a professional, programs like GA may make the difference between change or the repetition of unwanted behaviors. Consider contacting a therapist online or in your area for more personalized and comprehensive support. 
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