The Role Denial Plays in a Problem Gambler’s Life

gambler with head in arms

When things are not going well in our lives, it’s natural to experience some denial at one point or another. People struggling with gambling problems are especially prone to denying the consequences of their behavior. Particularly, they deny how much their gambling has affected their family and finances, and they may even deny altogether that they have a problem. Until they accept the consequences of their actions, they will be unable to plan for a better future and will not be willing to stop gambling.

How Denial May Manifest Itself

At the heart of it, denial is a coping mechanism when things become too painful. People with gambling disorders will often deny or distort their gambling behaviors so that they do not have to look closely at the unflattering reality they’ve created. Some of the most common lies gamblers tell surface because of their denial.

If someone is in denial about their urge to gamble, they may exhibit the following behaviors:


When someone mentions their gambling, the problem gambler will say the person is exaggerating, that their gambling is not that bad or that others have it way worse. The gambler may say things like, “I only place bets on the weekend,” or “I only play blackjack when I’m with friends.”

A gambler’s spouse or partner may also minimize their loved one’s behavior to keep peace in the home. They may say things like, “The kids still have clothes and food,” or “At least my partner isn’t cheating.”


In addition to minimizing the effects of their actions, problem gamblers may rationalize their behavior. They often claim they gamble because they’re stressed, and playing blackjack helps them relax. Or they may say they placed a bet on their favorite sports team because they needed a reward for the hard work they put into their job.

A gambler’s significant other may rationalize the behavior by saying their partner only gambles because of how they were raised. Or they may claim that their loved one only goes to the casino because their boss is so overbearing. No matter what they claim, the problem gambler’s partner is in denial because their mind is trying to protect them from the pain of the situation.


Disordered gamblers in denial often convince themselves and others that their gambling is not as bad or severe as it really is. If they have financial problems, they may convince themselves that their debts have arisen due to an inability to properly manage money rather than their frequent need to gamble. When gamblers deny their gambling has any effect on their financial, relational, and mental health, they still have a long road ahead since recovery cannot begin until they admit they have a problem.

Ways a Problem Gambler Can Overcome Denial

In the past, it was believed that a person struggling with substance misbuse or a gambling problem needed to “hit rock bottom” before seeing the reality of their situation. Today, however, psychologists recognize that a problem gambler does not have to fall into complete despair before they can start making positive changes in their lives.

Here are a few ways people with gambling problems can overcome their denial:

  • Sessions with a licensed therapist can help problem gamblers come to reality about their issues.
  • Keeping a record of how much money they spend at a casino or on their favorite gambling websites can help them see the extent of their problem.
  • Reading information about gambling disorders can help those in denial about their problem see they have troubling behaviors that need to be addressed.
  • Taking a moment to self-reflect when they recognize a gambling or betting urge can help problem gamblers overcome their rationalizations and find a healthier way to cope with the stressors in life. 

Overcoming Denial Is Possible

Because denial is a coping mechanism, it’s important to realize that people in denial can remain in this state for any period of time. It may last a few weeks or several years. It’s also not uncommon for people seeking treatment to occasionally relapse, saying something like, “It’s okay for me to place this bet because I have more control now.” The important thing is to recognize that recovering from a gambling problem is a process with many giant leaps forward and some small steps back.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a gambling disorder, you can receive help and support by attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in NJ or calling 1-800-GAMBLER. Our professionals can help you find the best treatment options for you and your loved one.


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