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We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. -Henry Cloud

Garrett was a problem gambler who gambled in casinos, both in person and online, as well as with lotteries and scratchcards. He knew his gambling was irrational, but it was not until he ran into debt that he decided to try CBT.  Garrett's cognitive behavioral therapist guided him in recording the thoughts and feelings he experienced before, during and after gambling. By analyzing Garrett's thoughts and feelings around his gambling, they realized that he had a belief that the number 7 was lucky and would eventually lead to a big win. Garrett’s birthday fell on the 27th of July, and he was born in the year 1977. As a child, he had heard that the number 7 was lucky, and this resonated with him because the number 7 appears four times in his date of birth. Then when he was 7-years-old, he won a raffle, and the ticket number was 77. To him, this was proof that the number 7 was his lucky number. Ever since then, Garrett would always place a bet if there was an opportunity to bet on a number with a 7 in it.

This magical thinking was in fact not based in reality, but was an error in his thinking, involving overgeneralization of a few random events to incorrectly predict a future big win. Rather than leading to his fortune, Garrett’s compulsive betting was causing him money problems.  With practice, Garrett was able to gradually replace the feeling of anticipation of a win, and belief that he had “nearly” won every time he had a loss, with the feeling of security and pride in making wise decisions every time a gambling opportunity presented itself, and he resisted it.

Eventually, Garrett looked at the records he kept of the bets he did make, and of the bets that he resisted making, and whether or not he won or would have won if he had placed the bet. He found that he would actually have lost over 80% of the bets he would have made, and lost about the same proportion of bets he actually made. This helped him overcome his tendency towards overgeneralization, and supported him in his recovery. It took over a year before Garrett was able to quit gambling completely, but he's now had over two years without placing a bet.

Signs of Addiction:

  • Questioning. People who don't have an addiction problem don't wonder if they have a problem. The mind tells us what we need to know whether we want to hear it or not. If it is haunting you with questions such as "What am I doing?", "Why do I keep doing it?", and "Why can't I stop?", take note. Your problem may have crossed that line into addiction.

  • Defensiveness. When others touch on the topic, do you feel your hackles rise, and do instantly defend yourself with statements like: "It's not a problem for me," "If other people don't understand, it's their problem," "I can stop doing it anytime I want to," or "I'm not hurting anyone but myself?" But you know these things aren't true?

  • Blaming. Placing blame for your behavior on others or a situation is an old ploy of addicts that keeps them from taking responsibility for their choices. When others are out of the picture, and the situation is resolved and the behavior continues, it's a clear sign that there's a problem -- yours.

  • Secrets and lies. Often, addicts are the only ones who think their addiction is a secret. They believe the lies are hiding the secret, but those close to them have noticed they are drinking too much, abusing prescription drugs, gambling away necessary funds, engaging in dangerous sex, overeating, purging, shopping, living in clutter, etc. If addicts know that others know, but they continue to tell lies, then the only ones they're fooling is themselves.

  • Time and effort. The time addicts put into the behavior and into finding ways to stop doing it, takes away from other parts of their lives. The effort it takes to manipulate situations and other people so that they might indulge in the behavior takes away from the effort they could be putting into building better relationships, getting an education, building a career, or simply living life free to choose what they will do.

  • Guilt and shame. How you feel about your behavior should be a clear indication about whether or not it's a problem. If you feel guilt and shame, but you can't seem to stop what you're doing, then the problem has become an addiction. No one wants to feel guilt and shame, so if you inflict it on yourself repeatedly, then that's something you should take a hard look at.

  • Isolation. Using thoughts that no one loves you, others don't understand, or you don't fit into the world around you to justify your behavior may convince you that you are protecting yourself from more pain and disappointment, but it will leave you feeling alone and empty. Telling yourself you are different and can handle things that others are not able to handle will only prolong the problem and escalate the possibility of serious addiction.

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