How to Stop Punishing Yourself While Recovering From a Gambling Problem

If you’ve ever struggled with a gambling problem, no matter how long ago, it can be difficult to stop punishing yourself for your actions. Your thoughts spiral back to the “would have, could have, should have” moments over and over, and often, you can’t stop thinking about the people whose trust you betrayed — or the ways you betrayed yourself.

Many recovery programs for problem gamblers are similar to substance abuse programs, with a specific focus on building positive relationships and finding healthy alternatives to problem gambling. But drug and alcohol-addicted people — and those with gambling problems — often struggle with negative self-talk, especially as they proceed with the recovery process. Here are some time-tested methods, often used in addiction treatment, that you can use to fight back against that negative voice in your head!

Try Journaling

If you still feel guilt due to gambling, it can be tough to start restoring your self-esteem through contact with others, so sometimes, turning inward is a valuable first step. Journaling is one way to express yourself in a totally private, judgment-free zone since you can write about absolutely anything you want. You can use your journal to record urges, talk about your previous compulsive behavior, or work out your feelings about gambling denial. Stumped about where to start? Try these journaling exercises to overcome problem gambling.

Look Into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, often shortened to CBT, involves recognizing your thought patterns and understanding why you engage in your behaviors. When practiced long-term, CBT can help you identify your self-punishing thoughts and develop a response. Sometimes, that response will look like telling yourself something positive instead, such as “But I’m in recovery now, and changing my life” or “I’m still a person worthy of love and care.” Other times, it will look like asking yourself, “Why am I having this response?” There are many CBT workbooks and nonfiction books online for you to try, or you could go the professional route and seek out a practitioner who specializes in this type of mental health treatment.

Speak With a Therapist

If you continue to struggle with punishing yourself for your gambling problem, therapy is a vital resource you should try. There are many free programs and apps online for short-term treatment, and many health insurance plans make therapy more affordable than you might think. Your therapist can also help connect you to other options if you’re seeking treatment in your community.

Create a Support Network

It doesn’t feel good to blow all your money on gambling — nor does it feel good to betray the trust of friends and family. But even if you feel like you’ve caused your friends and family grief and pain, you can still mend these relationships. Creating a support network of loved ones can help you stop punishing yourself so much since positive relationships with others will restore some of your self-esteem. Don’t be afraid to make new friends, too, both in and out of recovery-focused spaces.

Move On With Life!

Taking accountability for what you’ve done is essential as you recover from your gambling problem. However, continuing to dwell on your every choice and action is not a good use of your time. As you continue your recovery journey, try to see recovery as a fresh start. Here are some great ways to move on with life and defeat self-punishing thoughts:

  • Connect with old friends or family members you haven’t spoken to in a long time.
  • Pick up a new hobby or join an organization in your community.
  • Start a workout plan. Exercise can significantly help in the recovery process. 
  • Adopt or foster a pet.
  • Get outside! Investigate nearby public parks and nature preserves.
  • Volunteer your time at a local food bank, library, animal shelter, or senior care home.

If you want to use your experience to help others, you can become a mentor for those attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Your words of wisdom as a recovering problem gambler can make a huge difference in other people’s lives. However, there are some people who would prefer to avoid recovery spaces once they’ve made it past the hardest parts of recovery — which is totally fine, too.

Get Help Now

Do you need to speak to someone about your gambling problem? Start working towards positive change now and call 800-GAMBLER. Our free, confidential hotline is open 24/7 and staffed by resource counselors. Pick up the phone today and start your recovery journey. We’re here for you!


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