SMART Recovery ®: Self-Help for Independence from Problem Gambling
By Rich Dowling, MA, LPC, MAC
Are you finding yourself asking, “Why do I gamble so much? And how can I stop?” You are not alone.
Compulsive gambling and pathological gambling are growing problems in the United States. Casinos, lotteries, and the availability of bookies are easier, faster, and more widespread. Internet gambling impact reaches far and wide. The good news is that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) based Professional Treatment and Self-Help models such as SMART Recovery
(Self-Management and Recovery Training) can be very helpful for gaining independence from addictions, including problem gambling.
Change your thinking, change your gambling problem
SMART Recovery is an abstinence based, self-reliance model founded on the idea that people generally feel and behave the way they think, with thinking being the one thing over which humans have most control. Therefore, with determination and persistence, people can change the way they feel and behave by changing their thinking. The mission of SMART Recovery is to assist individuals with their desire to gain independence from addictions in general through a change in their thinking about activities such as problem gambling, the common theme in addictive behavior being “irrational beliefs” (iBs).
What do addictions have in common?
I have facilitated SMART Recovery meetings attended by individuals desiring to gain independence from various problematic behaviors involving alcohol and other drugs, eating disorders and problem gambling. Some people have expressed concern they could not relate to the other issues only to find, as the meeting progressed, there was indeed common ground, resulting in similar emotional distress. Anxiety, depression, anger, guilt and shame are common “unhealthy emotions” experienced by people addicted to one or more substances and or activities.
How do you change your thinking about gambling?
The “ABCs” of REBT (rebt[dot]org) method of solving problems (listed below as part of SMART’s 4 Point Program) is used as an effective formula for enhancing emotions and changing behavior. SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program® offers scientifically based tools and techniques to assist an individual with:
1. Enhancing motivation to abstain from offending substances and problematic behaviors
2. Coping with urges without acting on them
3. Solving problems in a reasonable way (using ABCs of REBT)
4. Balancing immediate desires and long-term goals. (See SMART Recovery website)
One tool in particular that relates to addictive activities (offered in The SMART Recovery Handbook) is the Cost/Benefit Analysis (CBA) Worksheet. The CBA can enhance an individual’s motivation to reduce problem behaviors by encouraging them to list the benefits of “Doing or Using;” the negative consequences of “Doing or Using;” the benefits of “NOT Doing or Using;” and the negative consequences of “NOT Doing or Using.”
One unique aspect of SMART Recovery is the individual is not “labeled” as an “Addict,” “Criminal,” or “Compulsive Gambler;” rather, it is the specific behavior that is identified with statements such as: The individual has committed a crime or gambles compulsively. So in reality, SMART Recovery is an empowerment program, encouraging participants to rate and judge individual behaviors, characteristics and experiences rather than their whole “being and essence” while having a sense of self-worth …simply by the fact they exist. This approach lessens the possibility of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Studies that support this method
SMART Recovery’s potential effectiveness for assisting individuals to find relief from addictions including compulsive/pathological gambling is supported by research. While attending the National Center for Responsible Gambling Conference, co-sponsored by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions and the Gaming Industry, I was introduced to research clearly showing CBT to be an effective model for assisting individuals interested in reducing problem gambling. Studies also show a correlation between alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, as well as gambling. Problematic gambling can also lead to more destructive actions such as criminal behavior (i.e., embezzlement) and, possibly, suicide.
If you have a problem with gambling or any other addiction, check out SMART Recovery, consider obtaining a SMART Recovery Handbook, attending a community group available in your area, or sit in on an Online SMART Recovery Group. Or contact SMART Recovery headquarters with questions, comments or to get assistance with starting a SMART Recovery Group.
Rich Dowling is a founding board member and Volunteer Advisor for SMART Recovery. He is owner of The Thought Exchange: Center for Personal Achievment, specializing in assisting individuals gain independence from addictions and create a healthier, happier, more satisfying lifestyle. Change Your Thinking, Enhance Your Life! ®